Neither the aerospace industry nor government agencies have yet shrunk in a certain way towards the space trash. For example, Rogue Space Systems is building a WAP-like spacecraft called Fred Orbot, which has solar panels that are wing-like. It is designed to pick up medium-sized space debris and move it away from incoming satellites. With its four robotic appendages, it will float to the wreckage or a satellite, snatch it in its arms and gently carry it into another orbit. If it occupies a piece of space debris, it will push it into a lower orbit, so that it eventually falls into the atmosphere and burns. Alternatively, Fred could be equipped with a small thruster or tether that could be attached to an extinct spacecraft to move the object downward, allowing Fred to move quickly toward his next orbital task.
Other companies are focusing on technology to get rid of large pieces of trash with a bus-sized rocket body that will create a lot of debris in the event of a collision. These debris can weigh tons, will not be easy to occupy or move into a new orbit, and may be too large to burn. “These objects are not sitting there; They’re messing around. You have a very difficult choreography for reunion, “said Darren McNite, a senior technical fellow at LeoLabs, a company based in Menlo Park, California, which monitors space junk with radar systems. He and his colleagues are experimenting with a third method, often called “just-in-time collision avoidance”. It could involve something as simple as a powder puff in front of a dead spacecraft that could withstand enough wind to slow it down or push it slightly into a different trajectory. Or one could attach a small thruster and a GPS receiver to it, turning it into a kind of zombie craft that could be made to run on its own – at least enough to avoid accidents.
Regardless of the method, McNight says, with so many technologies in development, he wants to see them sooner rather than later. “We really need to set up systems that are known to work in orbit. The time for tinkering is over, “he said.
This sentiment is reflected in new international initiatives, e.g. Net Zero Space, Announced at the Paris Peace Forum on 12 November, an effort organized by an international non-profit group. The Net Zero Space Declaration reads like a UN treaty, with the promise of two main goals: no more destroying space and starting to remove existing debris by 2030. Earth’s orbital environment, “it says.
“There is very little international cooperation,” said Jerome Barbier, head of space, digital and economic affairs at the Paris Peace Forum, despite widespread recognition of the space junk problem between both the space agency and industry. However, he continued, “Space debris has no nationality. They are threatening all our resources and all services related to them and we must take action before it is too late.”