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Author Topic: Can we create an electrostatic satellite to clear space debris?  (Read 1371 times)

Offline Expectant_Philosopher

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Can we have a satellite that generates an electrostatic field to attract space debris? This satellite might have a sensor array to detect space debris in vicinity.  Then this satellite could have a microwave energy receiver to allow for power boosts for electrostatic generation of electrostatic field, when near space debris.  The satellite would either attract space debris or be attracted to space debris.  Once the satellite had enough conglomerated mass, the mass would slow down and de-orbit itself naturally, and burn up in the outer atmosphere.  We could launch several to several different positions in space and renew ones that de-orbit.  Over time all the loose debris in orbit would be combed from space.


 

Offline evan_au

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Dealing with space junk is a problem that is exercising space scientists everywhere.

Some challenges:
  • Orbiting debris travels at an orbital speed of 1 to 10km/second. Different objects are traveling in orbits with different orientation in space, which means that any debris that passes close to the garbage collector will pass in and out of the electrostatic field in milliseconds, hardly changing their orbit at all.
  • These orbiting pieces have considerable energy. If they strike the garbage collector, they will both shatter into numerous small pieces, creating more debris that could strike other satellites....
  • It takes considerable energy to create a strong electrostatic field, and it will tend to self-discharge in the tenuous plasma in near-Earth orbit, or in the Solar Wind.
  • If and when a piece of debris comes in contact with the highly-charged garbage collector, the charge will flow into the space debris - and then you will have two highly charged objects in close proximity - which will be repelled and fly apart.
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the mass would slow down and de-orbit itself naturally
Drag from the thin outer reaches of Earth's atmosphere does eventually cause satellites in low-Earth orbit to de-orbit. However:
  • There are big liabilities if space junk hits someone, so a controlled (powered) reentry is better than an uncontrolled "crash and burn"
  • Counter-intuitively, this drag does not initially cause the satellite to "slow down". Orbital velocity increases as the altitude drops, causing more drag, which causes it to speed up - until the satellite drops below orbital velocity.
  • Satellites in medium and geosynchronous orbits are beyond measurable pressure from Earth's atmosphere; I heard a guesstimate that one satellite would remain in orbit for around 8 million years.

But if you come up with a solution, NASA would love to hear from you! The ISS has to keep dodging bits of space junk.
 

Offline Expectant_Philosopher

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Well, I had thought of nets with large surface area to catch the debris.  There is a construct that I saw on some coastal fort once in my life.  The fort had walls of stone blocks made up of some sedimentary seashell matrix. During a battle the canon balls did not shatter the stone, rather the canon balls imbedded themselves in the walls and actually became part of the wall rather than destroying the wall.  The material slowed the canon ball so the munition did not penetrate through the wall or destroy the wall.  If we could orbit a similar matrix with a large enough surface area the matrix would capture debris and bring the relative velocity of space debris to zero.  Then we could like you say control its reentry by attaching an engine to the conglomeration. 
« Last Edit: 08/08/2014 19:21:43 by Expectant_Philosopher »
 

Offline Expectant_Philosopher

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There is a natural model I like as well, the basking shark, which trolls the oceans with this gaping maw to sift the water for bits of plankton.  Look at a picture of the shark and it looks like some form of spaceship right away, sort of like that Doomsday machine in Star Trek that swallowed everything.  If you could have a purpose built spaceship to troll space sucking debris into a giant maw concentrating the mass, compacting it, you could have a space industry paid for by a fee attached to every space launch.
 

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