Russia plans to blast space junk with a laser

Proposal would turn a telescope into a way to tackle the growing problem orbiting Earth
space junk This image estimates the amount of space junk currently orbiting Earth. (European Space Agency)


Our ability to explore outer space is something that gets us really excited. But like most exploration, there is a cost.

The trash that we leave behind.

Humans don't exactly have a great track record of keeping the places that they visit clean. (Though many are trying to do better!) And in the case of space, it's especially difficult. Tidying up isn't as simple as just picking up after yourselves. The relative weightlessness of space makes such tasks next-to-impossible.

That's why NASA reports that there are around 20,000 softball-sized pieces of leftover space junk orbiting Earth. These objects  travel at around 28,150 km/h (17,500 mph), meaning that if they ever collided with a space vehicle, the damage would be significant.

Now a team of Russian scientists have proposed a solution...

(Uh, is it space lasers? Please say it's space lasers!...)

Space lasers!

(Yes!)

Having a blast

Embed from Getty Images

"Pkew? Pkew?" No, not this type of telescope... (Getty Embed)

But hold on now. Is this really a thing? Are lasers that can blast space junk—or orbital debris—out of the sky really possible? This device has not been built and there is no timeline yet for when it would be completed. But it is definitely possible.

Scientists from a group called Precision Instrument Systems (part of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos) want to turn a 3-metre (10-foot) telescope into a laser cannon. The telescope would be used to focus and amplify (or strengthen) the laser beam. Once the beam targeted a rogue piece of orbital debris, it would heat it up from the inside out and vapourize it. Zap!

The time is coming

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Even back in the 1980s, space agencies were discussing the issue of orbital debris. (Getty Embed)

Even if this Russian plan comes to pass, it seems clear that the world needs some kind of solution to its space junk problem. Whether from discarded craft or pieces that get dislodged from space launches, the amount of orbital debris up there is growing. Japanese and Chinese teams have also proposed ideas for space-based lasers, included one mounted on the International Space Station (ISS)!

So, are you ready for lasers in space?


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