'Space garbage trucks' could clear orbit of deadly debris

Just the other day we showed you one idea to clear the Earth's orbit of junk: giant balloons. Now, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is backing a proposal to build orbital vehicles that would scoop up debris in space using giant nets.

The idea comes from Jerome Pearson, the president of Star Inc and one of the earliest proponents of the space elevator. In fact, it was his 1975 paper about space elevators that inspired Arthur C. Clarke's description of one in The Fountains of Paradise. Guess what's thought to be one of the biggest obstacles to building one? (Other than the practicalities involved, of course.) That's right: space debris.

Along those lines, Pearson is now partnering up with DARPA to produce a space vehicle that would comb through orbit like a garbage truck. Called the Electrodynamic Debris Eliminator — or EDDE — the vehicle would be able to collect dead satellites and other dangerous junk, according to Techworld:

Space garbage happens to be one of the biggest obstacles to building a space elevator. Pearson's proposed EDDE vehicle will come equipped with around 200 nets, like butterfly nets, that it extends to scoop up garbage in low-earth orbit. Over a period of seven years, 12 EDDE vehicles could capture all 2,465 identified objects over 2 kilograms floating in LEO, Pearson says.

Once the junk is scooped up, the EDDEs have a couple of options: they could fling them out into space, send them into the atmosphere to burn up or into a body of water, or — most appealing to our minds — collect the garbage to reuse in other ways.

The EDDEs themselves could also have multiple uses beyond garbage collection, including military applications. With DARPA's funding, a EDDE test flight could happen as soon as 2013.

Techworld, via PopSci

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