Feeds

Italian boffins to robo-grapple space junk

Cunning satellite plan to de-orbit rocket debris

High performance access to file storage

Italian scientists have devised what they reckon is a viable plan to deal with the menace of large chucks of space debris: a robotic satellite which will grapple the junk, attach a propellant kit and dispatch it to a fiery death in the Earth's upper atmosphere.

Marco Castronuovo and colleagues from the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana have identified over 60 major threats at an altitude of roughly 850km, the BBC explains. Two-thirds of these weigh in at over three tonnes apiece, and many are whizzing along at up to 27,000 km/h (16,800 mph).

Among these are the priority targets: 41 large rocket bodies in a similar orbit which could collide, provoking a "cascading" collision effect as more and more pieces are added to the circling junk pile.

Castronuovo told the BBC: "In our opinion the problem is very challenging and it's quite urgent as well. The time to act is now; as we go farther in time we will need to remove more and more fragments."

The team's abstract in the journal Acta Astronautica explains: "The selected concept of operations envisages the launch of a satellite carrying a number of de-orbiting devices, such as solid propellant kits. The satellite performs a rendezvous with an identified object and mates with it by means of a robotic arm. A de-orbiting device is attached to the object by means of a second robotic arm, the object is released and the device is activated."

The scientists say their method could effectively and economically deal with 35 rocket bodies over seven years. Castronuovo is aware of the potential political sensitivity of the plan, given that his robosat grappler could potentially be used to deorbit working space hardware.

He said: "It's difficult from a political point of view; many of these objects belong to nations that are not willing to co-operate or do not allow access to their objects even if they are at the end of their operative life, and there is no international regulation on who should remove the objects that are left in space.

"If we start concentrating on the spent rocket bodies – which do not have sensitive equipment on board – it should not pose any problem to the owner to give permission to remove them; and there's no doubt they are not operative anymore."

The Italian plan is radically different to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) proposal, unveiled earlier this year, which suggests an orbital fishing trip with a really big net to clear the heavens of rubbish. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Fancy joining Reg hack on quid-a-day challenge?
Recruiting now for charity starvation diet
Red-faced LOHAN team 'fesses up in blown SPEARS fuse fiasco
Standing in the corner, big pointy 'D' hats
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
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
New FEMTO-MOON sighted BIRTHING from Saturn's RING
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
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.
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.
SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.