Feeds

DARPA seeks orbital wheely-bin plan

Must cope with rubbish up to 'derelict spaceship' size

High performance access to file storage

The noted US military bonkers-boffinry bureau, DARPA, announced yesterday that it would like to hear from anyone with ideas for cleaning up the large amounts of space debris orbiting the Earth. Aerospace globocorp Boeing has already indicated that it is interested.

According to DARPA:

Since the advent of the space age over five decades ago, more than thirty-five thousand man-made objects have been cataloged by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network. Nearly twenty-thousand of those objects remain in orbit today, ninety-four percent of which are non-functioning orbital debris. These figures do not include the hundreds-of-thousands of objects too small to be catalogued, but still large enough to pose a threat... collisions between debris objects could potentially lead to a continuously growing debris population, thus increasing the risk to operational satellites.

Since January 2007 we have experienced a nearly fifty percent increase in the number of cataloged debris objects, largely due to the intentional destruction of an active satellite by the Chinese government in 2007, as well as the collision between an active Iridium satellite and a retired Russian communications satellite earlier this year.

Owing to the tremendous speeds of objects in orbit, and the fact that satellites and spacecraft must be as lightly built as possible to save on launch costs, even a tiny piece of debris can inflict disabling damage in a collision.

This isn't a good scenario for the US military, perhaps the organisation most heavily dependent on space. Hence DARPA would like to hear from anyone with "possible technical approaches for cost effective and innovative system concepts for the removal of orbital debris".

It seems that the Pentagon brainiacs particularly want to tackle drifting space rubbish from 1mm up to "derelict spacecraft" size in low orbit, and larger stuff up in geosynchronous orbit where the communications satellites are found.

DARPA is looking for information on the full spectrum of potential solutions, from quickly clearing a congested region in space of all types of debris to strategically removing large objects across a range of altitudes to manage the overall growth rate of debris.

It's noticeable that US aerospace and weaponry behemoth Boeing have already listed themselves as an "interested vendor" on the possible Orbital Debris Removal (ODR) project. Boeing is big in the military space industry. The firm is working on the so-called Space Based Surveillance System, a group of satellites intended to spy on enemy spy satellites. According to Boeing, the SBSS could also be used "to calculate orbital debris collision-avoidance measures for the International Space Station and Space Shuttle missions".

That said, however, the ODR effort is only a request for information for now. No funds have been set aside, and DARPA says it "does not intend to award a contract on the basis of this... or to otherwise pay for the information solicited".

Plus there's the fact that DARPA is institutionally a bit, you know... special. So there's every chance that orbital-debris sweepup is actually impossible or that they'll give up on it in the near future. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
Get your MOON GEAR: Auction to feature Space Race memorabilia
Keepsakes from early NASA, Soviet programs up for bids
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.