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back to article Atlantis hooks up with ISS

Space shuttle Atlantis docked with the International Space Station at 15:07 GMT yesterday, on its final visit to the orbiting outpost as the US prepares to wrap the shuttle programme. Before connecting with the ISS, the venerable vehicle did the customary backflip to allow station crew to photograph its heatshield. The snaps …

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Happy

"500,000 pieces of tracked debris"

We really should clean this up. I suggest it be called "Project Dyson".

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Coat

Project Dyson?

That sucks......

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Coat

But...

there's already a vacuum in space.

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Dyson?

Surely we want something that is robust and effective and doesn't fall apart and clog up with hair?

Not to mention the bloody racket, however in space nobody can hear it screeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeeeeeeee eeeeeeeech.

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Boffin

There *might* be a way to reduce that debris.

One of the classic demonstrations of the quantum effect was discharging the leaves in a gold leaf electroscope by exposure to UV light.

Reversing the process a short wavelength laser should be able to charge up the smaller debris like paint fragments and other small objects.

This gives a charged object moving (mostly) at an angle to the Earth's magnetic field. Depending on the polarity of the charge they will then move either to higher orbit, (but not much higher, think 10s of Km, not GEO) or lower. Lower puts them in thicker atmosphere and (hopefully) cause them to burn up on re-entry.

It wouldn't *ensure* all debris is swept away but it would improve your chance of *not* hitting something no one knew was there. The bigger stuff is likely to need something actually going up to them and attaching something to slow them down enough to re-enter. Expendable motors are obvious but I think a tether might work and be re-usable.

Whatever is used has to either be *very* cheap or last a long time. Any funding for such work (vital though it is) is likely to be *grudging* at best.

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