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Cleaning Space Junk Using Ballistic Gas Clouds

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While some people invest millions to clean up the mess we produce and store here on Earth, others are already moving on to cleaning up the space. According to a US patent application, submitted on 27th of September by the American aerospace giant- Boeing of Chicago, gassy outbursts from suborbital rockets might just be the key to removing space junk.

Broken satellites, abandoned rockets, as well as debris due to continuous collisions endanger astronauts and spacecraft. Although once entered into Earth’s atmosphere most of this junk burns up, Boeing suggests that by mid-century it would be very difficult to navigate between these objects.

The challenge here is to remove all these, without adding more and existing solutions do not account for this yet. Sails attached to derelict satellites, janitor robots and robot-pulled nets, they all need lofting on orbital rockets.

Now, what Boeing proposes is to send a tank filled with cryogenic inert gas- xenon or krypton. This tank would be mounted on a rocket, however once the trajectory intercepts space junk, the rocket would vaporize and release 10 tonnes of gas.

The inventor of the idea, Michael Dunn, is certain that this amount would create enough drag to reduce orbital velocity by 0.2 kilometers per second, which is sufficient to send any object that moves at about 7.8 kilometers per second, in the upper atmosphere.

Moreover, if used below the 100-kilometre Karman line (which is agreed to define the edge of space), the debris-breaking cloud can be sent to altitudes of 600 kilometers, and then return back to Earth.

Via: NewScientist

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