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Orbital Clean Sweep

In 2009, a satellite collision 500 miles above the surface of the earth generated space garbage expected to stay aloft for 10,000 years. During that time, further collisions among existing pieces of debris will add to the collection of dangerous high-speed particles circling the earth, even without orbiting a single further satellite. Space travel could become impossible if nothing is done. There are only two problems: technology and a business model.


Imagine a foam sphere, perhaps miles in diameter, formed in orbit and sweeping a region of space equal to its diameter. This target would be large enough to be tracked easily by radar. It's purpose would be to absorb collisions with debris too small to track. It would need to function without generating additional waste. Momentum transferred to the sphere by collisions would be expected to eventually de-orbit the sphere.

One can think about steering the sphere using a constellation of laser satellites keeping station in a tetrahedron around it. Reaction mass could come from ablation of the sphere itself.

Business Model

No one is paying to help someone else get into orbit, so a business model better than altruism is needed. One possibility is to protect specific satellites only. Another is to offer insurance companies that cover launches a clearance service that costs less than they can save by avoiding collisions altogether. As always, everything depends on specifics, but that's your job. SpaceFarers just wants to advertise your solution.

If you think governments are going to help, you are wrong. Big government is wary of frontiers because that's where their headaches come from. People there are always inventing something inconvenient, or rejecting government authority, or seeking independence.