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back to article Swiss space-cleaning bot grabs flying junk, hurls itself into furnace

The US and Russia may be working on Mars missions, but the galactic ambitions of the Swiss are far more modest: they want to tidy up the Earth's atmosphere. The clock-and-choc-making country today announced plans for a rubbish-grabbing space bot. Swiss Janitor Satellite, credit EPFL The tiny 30cm-long (11.8-inch) CleanSpace …

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Two things

1. Who is paying for thousands of these Hoovers?

2. Why did we not launch our own "Dyson"? (c) (r)

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Joke

Re: Two things

You want to launch a Dyson? Wow. I'm not sure we're ready for that.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Two things

You want to launch James Dyson into space? (sans spaceship) I'll pay to watch that! :)

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Joke

Re: Two things

Spaceballs!!!

http://www.botcollector.com/_images/TFiRL/SpaceballMaid.jpg

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Stop

Who cleans the cleaners?

Am I right to assume that whatever propulsion system used to get the tiny cleaning machine into orbit will then need its own cleaning machine sent up to clear it away... which will need another... and another...

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Ru
Facepalm

Durrrr

I'm sure all those actual swiss rocket scientists hadn't thought of that. You should send them a letter at once, warning them of their colossal folly before it is too late!

Or y'know, think about it for maybe 5-10 seconds.

Responsibly launched and correctly functiong sattelites will have their own disposal mechanisms already. A rocket designed for launching space-junk cleaners certainly will.

But lets not even worry about technical details. Instead think about why a single launcher couldn't carry more than one cleaning device. You muppet.

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Re: Who cleans the cleaners?

They could use the Vega rocket which is design to minimise the amount of debris that ends up in orbit.

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Stop

nearly 7 million quid to tidy up *one* piece of space junk?

Something iffy in that - as the article notes, NASA are tracking 16,000+ bits of junk that are >10cm? Perhaps a better solution could be investigated (after all, it *is* rocket science). Perhaps useful for the really large bits that are difficult to catch, but the teeny-tiny stuff needs hoovering up (metaphorically, I suspect a vacuum cleaner approach may have a few flaws in space)

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That's for the FIRST robot.

As soon as it has been tested and hopefully, proven to work, they can fine-tune the design, mass produce them and hopefully use available capacity in other launches.

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Re: nearly 7 million quid to tidy up *one* piece of space junk?

If they're only 30cm long, I imagine the plan is to send up lots of them at once. Get the prototype working, then chuck a few dozen into a single rocket and hit go.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: nearly 7 million quid to tidy up *one* piece of space junk?

A vacuum cleaner works, it just as a very different meaning, as in cleaning the vacuum, instead of using a vacuum to clean.

Anonymous, because I want to avoid the backlash for the bad pun

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What about organic trash collectors... aka

PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGS IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIN SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE

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Coat

Re: What about organic trash collectors... aka

Na, that won't save your bacon..

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Anonymous Coward

Passive version

Why not some kind of satellite with blu-tac / gel over it? Put it into orbit for a year or two, perhaps changing orbits now and then and let all the micro particles stick to it. Once it's full, then it can do the death plunge.

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Re: Passive version

I agree, some sort of sticky gel-sphere is the way to go, if not a floating electro-magnet.

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Re: Passive version

Not sure how passive it could be, its still going to have to detect and chase stuff to match speed etc, I doubt a big ball of blu-tack will do much when a space bolt hits it a 2km/s.

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Joke

Re: Passive version

Is this in the same way that we could send cleaners with sticky dusting cloths into warzones to catch the bullets flying through the air to protect the soldiers?

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Mushroom

An electro-magnet might be a good idea, but would require that the space junk to be cleared contained ferrous metals (in layman's language, iron). Ordinarily because such metals would tend to be heavy to lift into space I would think that space junk would tend to be made of non-ferrous materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre.

Personally I'd fire up an object which when it got near to a piece of space junk it spat out a spiders web of something gooey, or maybe splat the junk with a goo-ball with a weight which gravity could act upon, so as to degrade the orbit of the junk, so that the junk did a graceful swan-dive into the earths atmosphere.

Alternatively, see if the dolly-the-sheep people could do a job with Ronald Raygun, ressurect the star wars armenents from the 80's, and have some fun with a live asteroids game. Practice on some bunkers in Iran until you got your sights properly aimed.

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Devil

The Swiss way of ruling Space

Forget about freakin' lasers, they'll just drag your valuable stuff down!

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Anonymous Coward

Useless

The big parts are not the problem, but rather the little ones which are difficult to detect and which number the tens of thousands.

Also, I doubt it really is a problem, as the number of satellites hit are pretty small. Also, the alleged collision of those two sats two years ago did never happen. Space is indeed - spacy. There is very little chance a sat will hit these objects because of the huuuge volume that boxes a satellite orbit.

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Boffin

Re: Useless

Little ones can easily be created by smashing big bits together or ramming big bits with small bits. So the big ones are a big issue. I recon the big fear is a cascade effect and big pieces would be vital for that to happen. Kind of like nuclear material reaching critical mass, or rather super-critical.

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Magnets!!

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Re: magnets

Is much space debris ferromagnetic ?

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How about some kind of net - maybe a four-piece satellite that is deployed spinning so it opens out and stretches a net between the pieces.

Let it drift through orbit for a while, catching little bits of junk, and gradually the momentum of all the bits slows it until it makes the death plunge (perhaps a set of small retro-thrusters could hasten it's demise...).

The net would have to be pretty strong - carbon fibre or perhaps just kevlar - to catch things rather than being punctured by them

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Orbital speeds are very high, so while a net might seem to be a good idea I doubt in practice one could be made strong enough to absorb the impact of something(s) travelling at high speed - even relative to something that has just got to orbit itself.

Shooting a laser at the target might work if the surface ablates enough to provide some reaction.

Also orbiting a large mass to disrupt the orbits of other objects (hopefully the stuff we still want up there can have their orbits corrected) might be worth investigating.

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Rather than a net

What about a great big chunk of aerogel? It could act as a kind of sponge to pick up all the little bits of space debris.

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TRT
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Re: Rather than a net

Rocket coated in Toblerone.

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Orbital speeds are high, but the flying net would be orbiting at the same kind of velocity. So it should be a relatively gentle catch. Unless you launched it in the opposite direction to everything else...

This is going to sound stupid, but the extent of my orbital mechanics training is playing Kerbal Space Program. Could a net like this be flown into a slightly elliptical orbit, so that at apogee it's velocity is slightly less than the debris in circular orbits at that altitude. Then at perigee it's velocity would be slightly higher than objects orbiting at that level. If the net/gauze was adhesive enough it could accumulate debris over time. Eventually it could be brought back to earth for re-entry, or with it's large area it would probably come down on it's own.

Of course it would have to stay up for years, and be a couple of kilometres across, and would have to be rigid enough that it wouldn't fold in on itself every time something hits it. Probably not practical yet, if at all.

Also: At 30cm long, are these things based on the cubesat? Cubesat kits are supposed to be relatively cheap.

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Why Not

Grapple the space junk, then bolt a little rocket to it and point it towards earth.

That way the space janitor doesn't have to perish in a fiery death every time it takes out the trash.

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or

What about having a small rail gun on board.

Grapple target, turn it towards earth, or back along it's orbital path, then fire the rail gun.

The impact would slow the target down enough to de-orbit (at some point), and the cleaner-sat can use the momentum gain to send itself to the next target.

Would be a great game.... (tm)

ttfn

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Re: or

where would it get the power to fire the rail gun each time?

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Re: Re: or

The Sun?

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FAIL

Re: Re: or

...and won't it just shoot ITSELF backwards at stupid-speed when it fires??

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That was the idea.

It would be firing BACKWARDS. Meaning it would fire the junk backwards, slowing it down potentially to the point of de-orbit. Meanwhile, the reaction from the firing would work propel it FORWARD.

That being said, I don't think you could collect enough juice to fire the junk properly on pure energy. You'd need something close to the MJ range, which solar collection wouldn't provide in a timely manner.

Going back to the idea of a net, understood that most materials have trouble with high-speed impacts, but what about several somewhat loose layers of kevlar with a little bit of give in them so as to help absorb some of the kinetic energy? Besides vests, some shooting ranges use kevlar for shooting range backstop curtains, so there is some history to using it like a net for small objects at speed.

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FAIL

Re: That was the idea.

.and then there's all those high velocity, designed to destroy, projectiles which miss or go through the target after the first one or two hit, to clean up afterwards.

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Meh

Does anyone else remember the Tomorrows World

that had a solution for space junk? The were going to send up what was effectively a tambourine, I can't remember the ins and outs of it but it seemed quite sensible at the time.

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FAIL

"systems from GPS to TV rely on satellites"

1) It wasn't the "Aussie PM" who said that. The Australian foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, said something similar. Click on the link in the article.

2) GPS and TV services aren't at anything like the risk as satellites that are in low earth orbit. GPS and geo-stationary satellites are far away, and so there's far less junk in their respective orbits.

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Re: "systems from GPS to TV rely on satellites"

Exactly!

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Re: "systems from GPS to TV rely on satellites"

Junk is a problem in geostationary orbit. So far no collisions have occurred, but that has been through foresight.

Gravitational perturbations from the Sun and Moon mean that satellites don't remain on station. All geosynchronous satellites require regular 'station keeping' burns to keep them more or less in place. After they have been abandoned they can wander significantly away from where we thought they are and since comms sats are clustered over the most advantageous positions, that is a serious risk. Operators are now required to demonstrate that their satellites can be fired into a graveyard orbit a few hundred km further away from Earth at the end of their lives.

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A re-usable one would be good

Navigate to junk. Grab. Apply delta-V to deorbit. Ungrab and reverse delta-V (quickly!). Rinse & repeat. It would need lots of fuel though, or a Tesco filling station in orbit. It's probably only practical for LEO objects though. As for getting it up there cleanly, booster stages should be designed to deorbit themselves.

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Re: A re-usable one would be good

What it needs is some sort of gun mechanism to put the delta-v into just the junk, not itself.

I think develop something like a big duvet, spinning, and with inbuilt stiffeners and dampers to keep it in the right shape while it fills up with space-crap and can be deorbited / tracked / boosted / maintained / forgotten about / hidden behind.

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Newton's 3rd Law of Motion

Would make it very difficult to do that, the best you could hope for is that the process increases the orbit of the device, whilst degrading the orbit of the target. Even for a missile, you still need to push the projectile away from the launch vehicle, before it fires.

Oh, and aren't missiles and guns banned in space. I should think the satellite owning countries might be a bit twitchy about the Swiss putting, what are in effect, hunter killer satellites into orbit.

But if someone was going to do it, to tidy up, you would want it to be the Swiss, so lets hope they get the security right, you wouldn't want the these satellites hijacked by anybody.

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They're doing it wrong

We need to get some Wombles in space suits.

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Re: They're doing it wrong

I thought about trying to translate that for my fellow Yanks, but I think the cultural barrier is a trifle high when it comes to The Wombles :-)

I never recommend Wiki for anything, but I suspect that it has a fairly decent overview of the subject. I can't be arsed to look.

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Mushroom

£5

I will contribute £5 to this project if they can bring it all down on Michael Bay's house at sunset.

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Anonymous Coward

Ok..who else is thinking Spaceballs

We need MegaMaid!

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Wouldnt it be better to copy the fishermen

And use a big trawler net to catch more crap in one go?

I'm guessing this one is for the big chunks and not for all the loose bolts and screwdrivers that are hanging about.

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Trick with the nets.

The objects being considered are traveling AT SPEED, more like a Marlin dashing through the ocean at 30kph or something like that. The point is, when something that fast hits your supposed trawling net, it has a distinct chance of having enough kinetic energy and inertia to punch through.

For the net to work, you'd need something designed to catch those kinds of objects. Which is why I thought a while back on several loose layers of kevlar: an idea which is already being used on the ground for shooting range backstop curtains (where they experience the kinds of projectiles they would encounter in space--small objects at speed). Kevlar mesh is designed to absorb kinetic energy, so that helps. Keeping them loose (or perhaps using a more-flexible armature) allows them to give and absorb more energy, and using layers means that even if it manages to penetrate one or two layers, each penetration knocks out more energy that may allow it to be caught by the next layer.

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Ha, a _vacuum_ cleaner.

The post is required, and must contain nuts.

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