In a bid to tackle the problem of space junk, a group of Chinese researchers have posited an ambitious plan – the deployment of a giant space-based laser station that would shoot down the debris to enable safer cosmic missions.
Bits of space debris – discarded objects like components of rocket boosters, old satellites and space stations – are travelling at a speed of around 17,500mph just a few hundred miles above our planet. The space junk continues to increase, thanks to the massive rise in government and private space operations, and poses a serious risk of damage to several spacecraft and satellites.
Considering the looming threat, Nasa and other space agencies have explored ideas like giant-space nets or magnet-based trajectory alterations to tackle the debris away. However, none of them have proved feasible, at least so far.
However, a group of researchers from China's Air Force Engineering University have come up with a new plan, positing the idea of blasting the debris with giant space-based lasers, Wired reported.
In a paper titled "Impacts of orbital elements of space-based laser station on small-scale space debris removal", the team has detailed how a giant laser station – a laser attached to a satellite flying around Earth – would emit powerful yet short bursts of near-infrared light to obliterate the debris.
The laser beams emitted – 20 per second for a few minutes – would be enough to zap the junk into smaller, less harmful pieces. The team even ran a numerical simulation to back their idea.
"It provides [the] necessary theoretical basis for the deployment of a space-based laser station and the further application of space debris removal by using [a] space-based laser," the abstract of the paper read.
While the idea of blasting space objects with lasers sounds more like something from an action-packed sci-fi movie, the novel research could actually form the basis of a tool for space cleaning sometime in the future. With space tourism and missions to Mars and beyond set to become a reality, it would play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of passengers flying through the low-Earth orbit.
This report has been published in the journal ScienceDirect.