Australian scientists aim lasers at space junk
Thursday 13 Mar 2014 6:56 a.m.
A team of Australian scientists are working on a project that will blast potentially dangerous space debris with lasers from Earth's surface, and hopefully remove space junk that could one day slam into satellites and cause a cascade of collisions like the one seen in Hollywood blockbuster Gravity.
Director of Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics Matthew Colless told Reuters the system is likely to be up and running within the next 10 years.
He said, "It's important that it's possible on that scale because there's so much space junk up there. We're perhaps only a couple of decades away from a catastrophic cascade of collisions... that takes out all the satellites in low orbit."
Scientists suggest there are more than 300,000 pieces of space debris comprising everything from tiny screws and bolts to large chunks of rockets which are mostly moving into low orbits around the planet at extreme speed.
NASA has handed Australia a contract to track and map space junk with a telescope equipped with an infra-red laser. But the ultimate aim is to increase the power of the laser to the point where it will illuminate space junk so they burn up as they fall through Earth's upper atmosphere without causing any harm.
Colless added, "There is no risk of missing and hitting a working satellite. We can target them precisely. We really don't miss."