|International Space Station could use a laser to shoot down space junk. Credit: NASA (laser added by Brevard Times).|
But don’t look forward to any laser-induced explosions is space. After locating a piece of floating space junk with a super-wide field-of-view telescope, scientists propose shooting the debris with a laser pulse to slow down its orbit; thereby causing the space junk to fall back into Earth’s atmosphere.
The second part of the experiment, the CAN laser, was originally developed to power particle accelerators. It consists of bundles of optical fibers that act in concert to efficiently produce powerful laser pulses. It achieves both high power and a high repetition rate.
Scientists say that these two instruments would be capable of tracking down and de-orbiting the most dangerous space debris, around the size of one centimeter. The intense laser beam focused on the debris will produce high-velocity plasma ablation, and the reaction force will reduce its orbital velocity, leading to its reentry into the earth’s atmosphere.
The group plans to deploy a small proof-of-concept experiment on the ISS, with a small, 20-centimeter version of the EUSO telescope and a laser with 100 fibers. “If that goes well,” says Ebisuzaki, “we plan to install a full-scale version on the ISS, incorporating a three-meter telescope and a laser with 10,000 fibers, giving it the ability to deorbit debris with a range of approximately 100 kilometers. Looking further to the future, we could create a free-flyer mission and put it into a polar orbit at an altitude near 800 kilometers, where the greatest concentration of debris is found.”
“Our proposal is radically different from the more conventional approach that is ground based, and we believe it is a more manageable approach that will be accurate, fast, and cheap,” said Ebisuzaki. “We may finally have a way to stop the headache of rapidly growing space debris that endangers space activities. We believe that this dedicated system could remove most of the centimeter-sized debris within five years of operation.”