back to article Foiled again! Brit military minds splash cash on killing satellites with... food wrapping?

Blighty's defence boffins are now spending £10m per year on space research, including a satellite mission set for blast-off in 2019. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is spending a total of £50m over the next five years on space "innovation", in particular for two space-related projects. One of these is the …

  1. Anonymous Blowhard

    "The upcoming Space Industry Bill, due for discussion by the House of Lords next week, forms part of that strategy to tighten Blighty's governmental grip on the cosmos"

    Obligatory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wntX-a3jSY...

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      The British government is keen to develop its space capabilities,

      By investing £10million per year in projects? That's about half a day of NASA's budget.

    2. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge

      Obligatory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wntX-a3jSY ...

      Miss Piggy deals with Space Garbage

  2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Coat

    Oi! That's my tinfoil hat you're takin'!!

    Sorry, tinfoil and GCHQ in one piece meant I just couldn't resist

    I'll get me coat

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Oi! That's my tinfoil hat you're takin'!!

      Coat, not a Mylar blanket?

    2. Long John Brass Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Oi! That's my tinfoil hat you're takin'!!

      It pleases me to no end that the UK space bods will be employing tin foil and hopefully sticky backed plastic :)

  3. macjules Silver badge

    During second reading of the Bill on 12 July 2017, a wide-ranging discussion took place on issues including the UK's membership of the European Space Agency, private ownership of civilian space flight operations and use of Scottish locations for UK spaceports.

    The use of Scotland for spaceports exemplifies typical UK government thinking, i.e. let's not launch near the Equator using the perfect base that we own (Ascension Island) - let's just use Scotland instead

    1. Tim Warren

      The benefit of launching from the equator diminishes as the orbital inclination of the satellite increases. A satellite intended to map the earth would want to fly over the poles so advantage launching from the equator would be lost..

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Aye. And ye can alsee gi' won bro'ar Scots chil tae hoy the wee 'uns int'ay space like a caber.

      2. Captain TickTock

        What about...

        the additional impetus that the Earth's rotation gives, which is maximum at the equator, and helps save on fuel?

        1. EddieD

          Re: What about...

          Aye, but how much fuel will it cost to get the fuel to Ascension island?

          1. Graham Dawson

            Re: What about...

            It's not the cost, it's the weight. Every m/s you gain at launch is so many kilos extra of payload you can loft to orbit for a given weight of fuel.

        2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: What about...

          "the additional impetus that the Earth's rotation gives, which is maximum at the equator, and helps save on fuel?"

          He did try to explain above. If you want to orbit from pole to pole, it is of no use at all.

    2. Muscleguy Silver badge
      Happy

      There's a big. long and flat runway on the end of the Kintyre Peninsula. It was the designated overfly landing site for the Shuttle. It is the preferred launch site for the space plane if it ever gets off the ground.

      It is remote and flat enough that Musk could land one of his rockets on it.

      So we already have the infrastructure. Also Glasgow has a thriving satellite design and build industry so we are players in the Space Industry. iScotland and present Scotland can do space too, it is not a conspiracy.

      Yours a hard campaigner with RIC and staunch advocate for Independence.

      1. streaky Silver badge

        It is remote and flat enough that Musk could land one of his rockets on it.

        Not about landing.

        UK has no interest in rocketry, once again we're leading the world in aviation technology only this time we won't have to give it away to buy the US into a world war.

        The equator argument involves invalid suppositions about what's happening here. We don't need to save fuel because we're not leaving the atmosphere the silly way. By the way you know you can fly to the equator and then burn fuel into space right?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >Also Glasgow has a thriving satellite design and build industry

        And as a fringe benefit, if something does come down in the wrong place, verra' little of value will be lost. Apart fra peepul y'ken.

    3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      "

      using the perfect base that we own (Ascension Island)

      "

      The problem with Ascension (or St. Helena for that matter) is the time & cost of transporting all the equipment and other resources. Anything heavy and/or bulky could only be delivered by ship with a travel time measured in weeks.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        The problem with Ascension (or St. Helena for that matter) is the time & cost of transporting all the equipment and other resources.

        I've said it before, we should go full super-villain and hollow out the Rock of Gibraltar and launch from there. It's near the equator and has good transport links and being near the sea it's easy to keep the shark tanks full. Another advantage is it would really piss the Spanish off.

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        The problem with Ascension (or St. Helena for that matter) is the time & cost of transporting all the equipment and other resources. Anything heavy and/or bulky could only be delivered by ship with a travel time measured in weeks.

        Unlike French Guiana.

        1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          "

          Unlike French Guiana.

          "

          Yes, completely unlike. Take a look at a map.

      3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Ascension

        Blighty would have to start by repairing the runway at Ascension

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p057d1vb

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "The use of Scotland for spaceports exemplifies typical UK government thinking, i.e. let's not launch near the Equator using the perfect base that we own (Ascension Island) - let's just use Scotland instead"

      Not to mention the possibility of a Scotxit. Don't forget the fuss over the entire nuclear submarine deterrent being based in Scotland.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why don't they just send up a huge magnet?

    Problem solved.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Aluminium, titanium, copper, zinc, tin, brass, gold, silver, lead... there's a lot of stuff up there.

      Obligatory video clip.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        >Aluminium, titanium, copper, zinc, tin, brass, gold, silver, lead... there's a lot of stuff up there.

        Shame to have it burn up in the atmosphere, perhaps someone should suggest using black bin bags and setting up a fortnightly bin collection...

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
          Joke

          Space bin collections

          The bin men (and I've yet to see a female operative) will leave the wheelie bins right in the path of the next SpaceX flight and refuse to accept any blame for rubbish blowing the solar wind.

        2. Simon Harris Silver badge

          "Shame to have it burn up in the atmosphere, perhaps someone should suggest using black bin bags and setting up a fortnightly bin collection..."

          You'd also have to send someone up to sort all the different metals into different bags before they agree to collect it.

    2. druck
      Holmes

      Space Sponge

      My idea is for a giant space sponge. It would need perhaps a km sphere of aerogel to capture both large pieces of junk in similar orbits, and small pieces at large crossing velocities. It would then use a small thruster to gently de-orbit, and create a nice firework display.

      1. Ledswinger Silver badge

        Re: Space Sponge

        Lovely idea, but most aerogels are quite brittle, and therefore impacts would probably create large volumes of micrometeorites.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Ok, so magnets are not possible for obvious reasons.

          Why don't we use sound waves to move it?

          We could ask the Cubans for their weapon designs.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            In space, no-one can hear you scream.

            Close, but no cigar.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              So, No Magnets, No sound waves.

              What about a firing up a huge ball of shower Jizz? That stuff is sticky and everything would stick to it re-entering the atmosphere with spectacular effects.

    3. Paul Kinsler

      Why don't they just send up a huge magnet?

      The earth already /is/ a huge magnet.

      1. Big John Silver badge

        Re: Wrong concept

        I looked up the Daedalus experiment. It's not for capturing satellites, it's meant to be added to future satellites so they can de-orbit themselves cheaply.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why don't they just send up a huge magnet?

        "The earth already /is/ a huge magnet."

        So that explains why when I drop something made out of metal it drops to the floor.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Why don't they just send up a huge magnet?

          That's because the planet sucks.

  5. TRT Silver badge

    Obligatory

    "The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is spending a total of £50m [...] the Daedalus experiment, [...] aims to clear up space junk [...] Currently [...] destroyed by firing rockets at it."

    Obligatory video clip.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Currently...

    "Currently, space junk is destroyed by firing rockets at it."

    Are El Reg's journos now deliberately trying to troll its readers? It's difficult to believe that's an honest mistake.

    Anyway, hitting a piece of 'space junk' with a rocket, whether it relies just upon kinetic energy or has an explosive warhead, will not destroy the item of space junk; it will just turn that single item of space junk in to many items of smaller and more difficult to track space junk, spread out over a greater volume of space.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Currently...

      Firing rockets ON it. A deorbit burn. Perhaps they meant.

    2. druck

      Re: Currently...

      I think El Reg is referring to the Chinese test of an anti-satellite missile against one of their defunct satellites, which almost doubled the amount of space junk up there. The US was also planning on downing one of their malfunctioning spy-sats, but I can't remember if they went through with that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Currently... [Chinese test]

        The Chinese test of which you refer took place in early 2007, so hardly current. And as you point out, it more or less doubled the amount of junk in orbit. The Chinese weren't the first to do this though; the U.S. carried out a similar test in 1985, although the satellite in the U.S. test was at a lower orbit and the last 'catalogued' bit of debris had de-orbited by 2008. However, I don't think anyone really knows how many uncatalogued (smaller) pieces of debris remain from the U.S. test - these would have been scattered further than the larger catalogued pieces.

        And yes, the U.S. did shoot down one of its NRO satellites in 2008, but this was at an altitude of just ~150 miles, so most of that junk will have de-orbited by now.

        Of course, no discussion of space junk would be complete without mention of project West Ford.

    3. Alan J. Wylie Silver badge

      Kessler syndrome

      The Chinese blew apart a satellite back in 2007, but creating a greater number of objects runs the risk of the runaway Kessler syndrome

    4. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Currently...

      Currently, space junk is destroyed by firing rockets at it

      Currently, more space junk is deployed by firing rockets at it

      TFTFY

  7. SkippyBing Silver badge

    Daedalus Experiment?

    Surely it should be the Icarus Experiment, he being the pioneering aviator who was tragically destroyed in a molten fireball*? Not his father who operated within the aircraft's release to service and landed safely.

    *Okay molten wax, I was trying for literary flare.

    1. IanTP

      Re: Daedalus Experiment?

      I see what you did there, nice!

  8. ukgnome Silver badge

    What is needed is a massive sieve!

  9. W4YBO

    Well, now I'm disappointed!

    I read right past the "Foiled again!" pun, and envisioned a rocket body formed out of a gargantuan roll of Saran Wrap.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Well, now I'm disappointed!

      I read right past the "Foiled again!" pun, and envisioned a rocket body formed out of a gargantuan roll of Saran Wrap.

      Would you settle for A rocket car made out of cardboard and linoleum? ☺

  10. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    If there's a changing magnetic field...

    ...then a loop of wire and a load resistor would convert kinetic energy into heat, dropping the orbit. Would work even in a hard vacuum.

    The boffins can take it from here...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: If there's a changing magnetic field...

      Doesn't that require ferrous material to work, though, and most space junk is non-ferrous?

      Also, the convert into heat part presents another problem: how to get rid of it. Without a solid or gaseous outlet for the thermal energy (meaning conduction and convection are out), the only way out is via radiation, which is actually pretty difficult in space and is a known issue with spacecraft design.

  11. Scott Broukell

    And not for the first time - during WWII Bomber Command used strips of foil which were dropped in large clusters to confuse German radar operators, it was code named 'window pane'.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      I thought it was originally called just "Window" and is now known as just chaff (still has a use today for confusing radar-guided missiles).

      1. Big John Silver badge

        Windowpane was a popular 'brand' of LSD back in the day. Rather than on blotter paper, the active ingredient was added to a small sheet of translucent gelatine and then broken into tiny squares for use. Damn things were so small you could easily fumble one away and never find it again!

  12. stucs201

    Oh, not the Project Daedalus I was thinking of

    Isn't that supposed to head to Barnard's Star, not clean up space-junk?

    This re-using of names for space-stuff get's confusing. I also get confused every time Orion is mentioned, my first thought is the nuclear bomb propelled version, not the more recent project.

  13. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    For cleaning up space junk of the "paint flake" kind, how about a device consisting of a core that has an expanded metal honeycomb shell surrounded by polyurethane foam (the stuff you use to seal door frames)?

    Let it sweep around the earth for a few thousand orbits gathering microcrap, then drop back for a meteoric re-entry. Some stuff would be too fast due to wrong orbital vector wrt the crapcollector mk1, or too big to stop of course, but you'd be aiming for several missions with different orbits over a number of years to clean out the fog of microstuff making life difficult.

    I envisage something several hundred feet in diameter that gets assembled/piped in orbit (ISS?) and then boosted to where it can do the most good.

    No doubt this is a stupid idea for reasons I haven't thought of. Must ask the NASA bods when I'm next in the area.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      One big problem with any kind of "foam" approach. Do you know of any substance that retains its foam properties at near absolute zero? Most of that stuff turns very brittle when it gets very cold, meaning you end up with a spalling effect. One chunk of space junk goes in. Cloud of ice-cold frozen foam fragments spray out.

      1. DJO Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        Do you know of any substance that retains its foam properties at near absolute zero?

        Not a problem, the vacuum of space would have burst the foam long before it got that cold.

        Aerogels have been deployed in space to collect dust particles but it has low structural integrity and needs a metal frame for just a small chunk, a large piece if it survived the launch would probably fall apart upon deployment, also it's ridiculously expensive to make.

        You can't put something huge like that into orbit, there's not just junk up there but also a myriad of operating satellites you really don't want to mess with. Any deorbiting has to be accurately targetted.

        1. Stevie Silver badge

          Re: Bah!

          Why would you think poly foam needs air? The foaming agent could be solid - glass beads for example. Why would you assume a foaming gas couldn't be supplied at the low psi required? As for the cold, we know how to get round that long enough to get the shell made, and I expect that NASA can find some material that can stay flexible enough at low temperatures (although the collisions with crap will generate heat).

          You lot weren't thinking the idea was working off the sticky, were you? Not aerogel, rigid foam.

          Item only cold when in shadow. Insolation will keep it warm most of the orbit.

          Metal frame - missed the expanded metal honeycomb bit in the original post?

          Also, not launched into orbit, fabricated there as per the original post.

          But thanks for pointing out some of the challenges.

  14. Paul Herber

    In tune

    That picture looks like a giant hi-tech bass guitar. I can tell it's in tune 'cos all 4 pegs line up!

  15. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Food wrapping?

    Get the greaseproof paper from the kebab I had last week into orbit and the left-over chilli sauce will dissolve any satellite into its component atoms.

  16. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Trollface

    Dubious achievement award: MoD edition

    Being hard-pressed to go anywhere on Earth without finding discarded food wrappers, now we need to fling them into space. :(

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. doug_bostrom

    "Currently, space junk is destroyed by firing rockets at it. "

    Really? Where may we read about that?

    1. TRT Silver badge
  19. MT Field

    Why do they (us) still insist on naming everything after some figure from classical mythology?

    Presumably now we are out of Europe we no longer have to work with those solidly stubborn Germans or smelly French. So we can go and do our own stuff in our own way, like in the good ol' days. There were good ol' days, right?

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