A vacuum cleaner for space junk


"Think of the latest idea of collecting space junk as something akin to a hungry tiger pouncing on its prey. Aerospace Corporation says its Brane Craft will wrap itself around debris orbiting Earth and drag it back down through the atmosphere, causing it to burn up and never again threaten satellites or astronauts.

The project recently received a second round of funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which funds far-out ideas that remain years away from launch — if they get there at all.

The Brane Craft is a yard across, flexible, and less than half the thickness of a human hair. This makes it difficult to protect the spacecraft's electronics from radiation, or even micrometeorites."  space.com


And now for a break from lefty bashing and war analysis.

I am a space freak born a few hundred years too early.  This device looks promising to me.  The orbital trash problem is becoming severe.  This would be worth the money to NASA.  pl


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40 Responses to A vacuum cleaner for space junk

  1. BabelFish says:

    We had one shuttle orbiter come back with a paint fleck (!) driven an appreciable way through a flight deck window. If I recall correctly, one early Air Force experimental payload, for testing radar reflections in orbit, was thousands upon thousands of needle shaped targets. Pieces of boosters, seals, explosive bolts, you name it, LEO is now a dirty place.

  2. Dennis says:

    I agree, I think the residue and trash orbiting the Earth due to space exploration should be cleaned up. I’m glad that there is at least an operation plan and though is being put in. I hope to see more useful technology being created to clean up the atmosphere and environment.

  3. MRW says:

    What happens after the Brane Craft executes one piece of space junk? Does it have to be reconstructed or remade? Or does it retain its “integrity”?

  4. Jomu says:

    It also can “clean” space of enemy spacecraft. Definitely good reason to go through.

  5. turcopolier says:

    Very small spacecraft for tiny grey beings? pl

  6. DH says:

    Brilliant! Does it pick up dog hair?

  7. turcopolier says:

    I have reported you to EEO and antifa for racist bigotry against canine Americans. pl

  8. Jomu says:

    That too :), but yard across is not too small for lots of space objects these days.
    Comes to mind – if not navigable – what differs it from other junk floating up there? Kamikaze ability to “die” together with other objects?
    (one more space freak 🙂 )

  9. DH says:

    It’s alright sir, I’m a dog, too.

  10. turcopolier says:

    “On the internet nobody knows you are a dog.” pl

  11. r whitman says:

    We need something to bring space junk back to earth to sell as souvenirs

  12. ked says:

    The Biz Model is to make the owners of the platforms that generate debris be responsible for its clearing-out.
    Obviously, most debris to-date have been the responsibility of national authorities. They must develop the standards, techniques & technologies for clearing the orbital highways & byways. This is the present stage (very early… “Innovative Adv. Concepts” … a glorified thought-experiment) that the article describes. They then implement that solution to clean up the mess made over the past six decades. Bear in mind that while these systems will leverage technology & systems fielded for active space-based tactical operations, it won’t simply be a tech-transfer project.
    {In parallel is the investigation of designs / develop solutions that mitigate creation of debris in the first place… prevention is extremely cost-effective compared to consequence mgmt, especially in space operations.}
    Secondly, the space commons cannot be treated as an open-loop trash dump. Part of the commercialization of space-based applications is to capture (pay-for) all attendant costs – or at least define what is to be captured by users and what is to be the responsibility of national & global authorities.
    A useful analogy is our highway infrastructure. Governments provide the infrastructure, individual users are not to throw garbage from their vehicles, deposit blown-out exhaust systems & retreads in the road (though they do, of course). In space, garbage-men may finally get the respect ($) they deserve… as they become trained in operating robotic semi-autonomous systems (which are being deployed on Earth too).
    If you prove viable solutions and require that the debris problem be addressed by all commercial users as a closed-loop plan in order to gain access, then this can be managed. But it won’t be soon… much like the “anti-meteorite Earth defense system”, only with more $ at stake.

  13. different clue says:

    We will also need a space junk cleaner for little space junk particles the size of a ball bearing or a bb or a grain of sand. Being hit by any one of these things at 20,000 miles per hour would put a destructo-hole in whatever got hit by it.
    Something like a very huge spider-web sticky drift net to sweep up all little space junk particles before it should be invented. And then pulled back down when too full to gather up any more.

  14. Sans racines says:

    If someone gets me up there and gives me a rocket pack I’ll sweep-up…

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Just wait long enough and the orbits decay and the various pieces of junk will burn during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

  16. Laura says:

    Love this and love all of the creativity that is out there to solve problems. Thanks for posting this!

  17. paul says:

    just wait till we have a war with a country that has satellites, a few large rockets filled with gravel and low earth orbit is locked out for good, if not all further space travel.

  18. Cortes says:

    Does a vacuum cleaner actually work in space? If so, instead of the Branecraft, shouldn’t it be a Hoovercraft?
    I’m here all week. Try the veal.

  19. Tom Cafferty says:

    The two leggeds use all their commons as dumping grounds. Plastic in water, plastic in fish, maybe we can eat the space debris.

  20. dilbert dogbert says:

    I have a couple of space souvenirs. An American flag and a piece of aluminum that went to the moon. That, a handshake and a pen are what you get on retirement from NASA.

  21. Mark Logan says:

    I suspect a similar amount of junk was created when the Chinese intentionally destroyed a couple of satellites a couple years ago. Testing some sort of anti-sat system, IIRC. Lotsa junk…but space is a big place.
    Speaking of clearing out junk in space, I’d like to see an anti-asteroid system developed, something capable of at least busting up the biggies, which we are quite likely not to spot until they are fairly close.

  22. DH says:

    We’re on the same wavelength.

  23. Peter in Toronto says:

    The Chinese are the worst contributors to the orbital trash problem; they generated a few thousand pieces of debris alone after their orbital weapons tests a few years ago. Any more similar tests may deprive civilization from access to low orbit.
    This is something I pondered a few times, glad to see there are some credible solutions.

  24. Peter in Toronto says:

    Speaking of which Colonel, you were nested fairly deep in the state security apparatus, have you come across any references to visitors?
    Now I don’t want your pension stripped, so you can respond on behalf of a “friend”.. 😀

  25. mike says:

    I’d volunteer for Mars or even Betalguese, but they are not taking 74 year-olds. Besides no way I’m going to let them put me into one of those torpor pods, so will have to wait for Warp Drive.

  26. ambrit says:

    Wouldn’t that be ‘speciesist’ bigotry? (That’s if the “Greys” weren’t the real first sentient inhabitants of the “New World.”)

  27. turcopolier says:

    Peter in Toronto
    Not once. pl

  28. paul says:

    does not really matter that space is big, once you have enough junk the junk keeps colliding and creating more and more separate pieces orbiting

  29. paul says:

    that was the point of the chinese test, they destroyed their own satalite to prove they can,
    this accord right after the united states refused to join a non-weaponize of space treaty

  30. LeaNder says:

    Joining Laura, thanks for the comic interlude.

  31. John Minnerath says:

    LEO is a crowded trash strewn zone around our planet. Even though the dangers of all that uncharted debris has long been known it still accumulates at an amazing rate.
    No one even knows how much there is and every satellite or other object passing through that zone is in increasing danger of a collision.
    This Brane technology almost gets into the fantastical science fiction realm, but it actually is a developing reality.
    There’s some information around that attempts to explain what it is for the layman, but it’s all still beyond most of us.
    Something needs to be done and this project just might develop into a working solution.

  32. DH says:

    All I got was a rock.

  33. Peter in Toronto says:

    Well, the Chinese with a single test of their space weapon platform generated as much debris as decades of commercial and scientific exploration. I can get you the numbers.
    The Chinese are very much contemptible in almost everything they do.

  34. John Minnerath says:

    Your blatant hatred of anything US makes whatever you write meaningless.

  35. kao_hsien_chih says:

    The idea seems a bit counterproductive to me.
    On one hand, it is true that LEO is increasingly crowded for safe operation of satellites.
    On the other hand, LEO is still pretty big and mostly empty, especially compared to whatever “vacuum cleaner” we could place in the orbit. Whatever space junk we can clean up will add up to very little, compared to what will be necessary to make a dent.
    Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to add more shielding to satellites whenever possible?

  36. Mel says:

    Well it has to. That’s what we’re talking about: an appliance to use on the vacuum after it has become dirty.

  37. Stumpy says:

    Off-topic but offered as a break from normal ops — presumably many of us caught wind of the Apple facial recognition feature on the iPhone 10 — https://www.macrumors.com/2017/09/13/how-iphone-x-face-id-works/
    So for $1000 you get an IR-capable cell phone with built-in 3D imaging that can see in the dark. My question is whether the developers can access this sensor system. Lots of possibilities.
    Interestingly, Google has a patent : https://www.google.com/patents/US6442419
    Makes me miss my PVS-5s a bit…

  38. SAC Brat says:

    I never trusted the Dozitronic technology, but I do trust Stanislaw Lem (In any form): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO9ppicjlFg (A fun German series loosely based off Lem)
    The Futurological Congress is one of his books I like best. Always a hoot to try to understand all the analogies and metaphors when writing in a controlled system like the USSR and US cultures.

  39. mike says:

    SAC Brat –
    Thanks for the great video link. I was more of a Heinlein and Azimov fan in my youth. But that video convinced me to put Lem’s work on hold at my local library. They don’t carry Futurological Congress but I’ll keep an eye out for that in the used bookstores.

  40. Adrestia says:

    Rapper B.o.B. raising funds to check if Earth is flat
    By Chris Bell BBC UGC and Social News
    Spoiler: The Earth is not flat.
    But US rapper B.o.B. is crowd-funding the launch of satellites to see if he can get some evidence to the contrary.
    The rapper, whose real name is Bobby Ray Simmons Jr, has been a vocal proponent of the Flat Earth theory – the claim the Earth is, in fact, a disc and not spherical.
    Some proponents of the Flat Earth theory claim NASA employees guard the edge of the world to prevent people falling off.

    When I read this I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry?
    The worst part is that it is probably serious.

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