Space Junk-Eating Pod-Craft

Russians are thinking about the problem of space junk that circles our planet; there are an estimated 600,000 pieces of orbital debris that exceed one centimeter in size, and only about 19,000 of those are tracked.

One of Russia's major space technology corporations, Energia, has plans for a nuclear-powered pod-shaped craft to somehow grab onto an outdated, dead satellite, and then alter its trajectory to send it into the atmosphere to burn up. Apparently, the idea has $2 billion behind it, so maybe it's not entirely space fiction.


(Space junk - not to scale [terrifying artist's illustration])

Science fiction writers have been hard at work, describing a variety of solutions, for at least the past forty years. For example, consider the 1977 television series Quark. This comedy, created by Buck Henry, described the daily activities of the United Galaxies Sanitation Patrol Cruiser, an interstellar (pod-like?) garbage scow.


(Richard Benjamin and the Barnstable twins)

Richard Benjamin played Adam Quark, who worked to clean up trash in space. He is ably assisted by the Bettys, played by the Doublemint twins (Cyb and Patricia Barnstable).

In his 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke uses Operation Cleanup to make sure that low earth orbit is clear of debris for the newly constructed space elevator.

Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task. Their radars - designed to locate oncoming missles at extreme ranges with no advance warning - could easily pinpoint the debris of the early Space Age. Then their lasers vaporized the smaller satellites, while the larger ones were nudged into higher and harmless orbits.

Fans may also recall Planetes, an anime series published by Makoto Yakimura in Japan starting in 1999. The series follows a team of debris cleaners who clear space junk from flight paths.


Planetes cover art

Via Dvice.

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