Jan 20, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Laser Proposed to Blast Away Space Junk

Apr 18, 2015 11:38 PM EDT

The exploration to space has been paved with litter as missions after mission and satellite after satellite has left much of Earth's orbit as nothing more than a glorified garbage dump.  Now, scientists have proposed a new way to deal with the trash problem - blast it.

Space junk is what's left after space missions and includes fragments of metal from explosions, old rocket stages, and even old worn out satellites assuming they have plummeted back to Earth.  This junk is not just unsightly, but can pose dangers to current active satellites in orbit and especially to other manned missions. 

As of 2009, there were more than 19,000 pieces of trash and debris that were larger than two inches in size, and more than 300,000 pieces of garbage that were half that size.  That's a ton of garbage.  So, what are scientists planning to do to get rid of this debris?

Scientists at Riken Research Institute in Japan have created a new fiber optic laser that they propose should be installed on the International Space Station.  It's mission?  To blast the 3,000 tons of trash in space into oblivion.

The Institute plans to create a trial run with a small laser to see how well it works in destroying space junk.  If successful, a full-scale version will be installed on the ISS that would have a range of approximately 100 kilometers.  The smaller version comes equipped with a 20 cm telescope and a 100-strand laser.  The full-scale model, on the other hand, really means business, as it would be 3 meters long and have a 10,000 strand laser.

Scientists also believe that they will be able to eventually create a better laser that could be placed in polar orbit around the Earth at a height of 800 kilometers, as that is where a majority of the space trash is located.

How does a space laser work?  This isn't Star Wars, after all.  First, the space junk must be tracked as they move at a high rate of speed.  The tracking is done with an infrared telescope from the Extreme University Space Observatory.  Once tracked, the laser prepared to destroy it using its fiber optic Coherent Amplification Network laser.  The laser itself won't actually destroy the garbage.  Instead, it will be used to knock the trash out of the Earth's orbit where it will then simply burn up as it re-enters the atmosphere.

The CAN laser produces a powerful pulse that can be modified to blast space trash and it is able to target and hit pieces that are about one centimeter or smaller in size.  These pieces are the most dangerous pieces to both satellites and manned missions as well.  Once the space debris has been eliminated, the risks to satellites and astronauts will be lowered, thus making it at least a little safer for the men and women who adventure into orbit.

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