Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Aussie Aims to Prevent “Gravity” Tragedy - with Lasers (Déjà vu to NASA 2009)

The Oscar winning movie “Gravity provided food for thought for all in its depiction of a cascading space tragedy that began with space trash in the form of a decommissioned satellite. While each space faring nation either has in development or has proposed some sort of idea, Australia has chimed in with an interesting suggestion; laser the debris out of the sky.

Before you consider the possibly thousands of pellet like debris forming from one big piece of space trash, understand this: The intention is not to disintegrate the object but to tip it off its path leading to slowing down and eventually burning up in the atmosphere. 

While I do not know what the cost involved in maintenance & upkeep would be, still all the other concepts at present involve a launch first and then action. Plus rely on something that has moving parts that will be up in space and so a problem could mean sending another up and maybe even creating more space debris. If there is a problem with the laser it is here on Earth and can be worked on and then go about its business. Also it could ‘reload’ and go again and just keep on going until all or most of the debris were gone.

Also – gone is that worry regarding one nation not wanting another nation to take a hold of their satellite; no one is taking hold of it.

So this concept has the possibilities of being less expensive, easier to maintain, less political irritations,…I think this idea might be better on the world stage. Perhaps it should be taken up by the UN?

Sounds familiar, right? That would be because back in 2011 this same time of year NASA was suggesting the very same thing. What has changed in the last few years? An Oscar winning movie that puts forth in a very real manner an idea previously referred to as the "Kessler syndrome" as Kessler previously predicted it.

The discussions of cost went into the initial costs that seemed to make it too expensive. A 5 kilowatt laser would cost about $800,000, not bad, but then add in the operating system (telescope included) and your talking 10’s of millions. HOWEVER, this could once operational take down about 10 pieces of debris a day. Think back to February 2009. A Russian Cosmos inactive Satellite and an active Iridium sat-phone satellite collide. Think of the cost that goes into these satellites, the personnel and upkeep, now think of all that gone and wasted.

Go back to the UN concept. Of having a world wide effort to pay for and clean the space debris. Any country having any responsibility for either the existence of satellites that are debris or ones that are operational will pay a sliding “fee”. This fee will go towards building and upkeep of the machine until such a time as all debris is gone. (In other words – in perpetuity!)

One final comment. For those who do not recognize the threat as real – these objects, from satellites to a bolt are travelling about 17,000 mph and have the same kinetic energy as a car weighing 2 tons traveling at 60 mph.

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