Trackable objects in Low Earth Orbit.  Image Credit:  ESA
Trackable objects in Low Earth Orbit. Image Credit: ESA

Earth, Satellites, Space Flight

Russia Wants to Build “Sweeper” to Clean up Space Debris

29 Nov , 2010 by

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Russia is looking to build a $2 billion orbital “pod” that would sweep up satellite debris from space around the Earth. According to a post on the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos’ Facebook site, (which seems to confirm an earlier article by the Interfax news agency) the cleaning satellite would work on nuclear power and be operational for about 15 years. The Russian rocket company, Energia proposes that they would complete the cleaning satellite assembly by 2020 and test the device no later than in 2023.

“The corporation promises to clean up the space in 10 years by collecting about 600 defunct satellites on the same geosynchronous orbit and sinking them into the oceans subsequently,” Victor Sinyavsky from the company was quoted as saying.

Sinyavsky said Energia was also in the process of designing a space interceptor that would to destroy dangerous space objects heading towards the Earth.

No word on exactly how the space debris cleaner would work, of how it would push dead satellites and other debris into a decaying orbit so that objects would burn up in the atmosphere, or if it might somehow gather up or “vacuum” debris. But at least someone is thinking about space debris and asteroid deflection and putting more than just a few rubles (60 billion of ’em) towards these concepts.

Sources: Xinhuanet, Facebook

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Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.



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Herkfixer
Member
Herkfixer
November 29, 2010 11:15 AM

How much you wanna bet U.S. Intelligence satellites will accidentally be “pushed” or docked with and downloaded.

Sirius_Alpha
Member
Sirius_Alpha
November 29, 2010 12:26 PM

Aren’t they also planning a robotic lunar base around that time?

I’m guessing Roscosmos and/or Energia expect to get a *major* increase in funding some time soon.

GekkoNZ
Member
November 29, 2010 12:51 PM

I think this is a great idea, and im glad *somebody* is willing to put some serious money into tackling this growing problem. Good on you Russia.

As to the fears they will be used for nefarious purposes, the US would be tracking that thing wherever it goes, they would know right away if it was too close to a spy sat. If Russia wanted a spy sat dead, they would just use an anti-satellite missile. You couldnt hide what this thing is doing.

Just a bit of fear mongering.

Kawarthajon
Member
Kawarthajon
November 29, 2010 12:59 PM

Wouldn’t it be ironic if this machine got smashed by some space junk and contributed to the space junk problem.

Aqua4U
Member
November 29, 2010 2:22 PM

Seems to me.. that if you have a high power nuclear energy source you could do all kindsa crazy things, like painting offensive objects with pulsed microwaves and/or lasers to create a cloud of charged particles around the object which could interact with the solar wind and the Earth’s magneto tail… electromagnetic orbital braking anyone?

Aqua4U
Member
November 29, 2010 2:29 PM

AND with such a device, one could power and propel several interplanetary probes? I like that idea. Aren’t they pushing a nuclear powered rocket design or two anyway?

Aqua4U
Member
November 29, 2010 2:32 PM
Aqua4U
Member
November 29, 2010 2:44 PM
Jon Hanford
Member
Jon Hanford
November 29, 2010 5:16 PM
I’m not sure if Russian nuclear powered satellites in Earth orbit is really such a good idea. In the past, old decommissioned Soviet RORSATS (nuclear powered radar satellites), began leaking sodium-potassium (NaK) coolant at altitudes of between 500-620 miles. These high decommissioning orbits were chosen in the hopes that by the time the satellites reentered the atmosphere (several hundred years), most of the radioactivity would be at acceptable levels. The Haystack radar facility in Massachusetts first detected a growing population of tiny objects, later identified as lost coolant, in 1995. There are now an estimated 110,000 coolant droplets (over 320 lbs) in long term orbits, posing a definite hazard for LEO satellites. As a added bonus, no one… Read more »
Manu
Member
Manu
November 29, 2010 5:51 PM
“collecting about 600 defunct satellites on the same geosynchronous orbit and sinking them into the oceans subsequently” There seems to be a problem here. If something is sent to clean up debris, it’s likely to be either to low orbit (where most of the problem is, but difficult to clean up – even in 10 years) _or_ in geostationary orbit, where it would be easier to do the job, but would not effect the LO problem. I don’t think _one_ sweeper could do both. Even nuclear. Also, why, and how to bring down stuff from GO into the ocean? I’m not supposed to literally understand “collect”, am I? Pushing around up to 600 1-10 ton satellites around _together_… Read more »
Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 29, 2010 6:21 PM

The one problem is that this puts a nuclear reactor in orbit, and then who is going to take care of that once the mission is done or the spacecraft has reached the end of its life. The idea is ok in some respects. Getting big pieces of space junk out prevents them from shedding off pieces which are orbital bullets. The best plan is to have retro rockets on LEO satelites so the problem does not build up further.

LC

Paul Eaton-Jones
Member
November 30, 2010 1:53 AM

Great idea.
As Alan Davey sang in 1993,
“They call me Sputnik Stan
Spaceways maintenance man
I see a satellite about to fade
Got to collect
Weigh it in, and get paid”

scozy
Member
scozy
November 30, 2010 4:19 AM

i think i might look at this too simply- we have lots of space round us and a lot of intresting objects that need anylizing, defunct sats could be used to “crash” into them; and as for the nuclear waste why not point them at the sun and send them out in a blaze of glory, a little bit more radiation in the sun wouldnt be that bad.
scozy

munisano
Member
November 30, 2010 12:38 PM

I think SCOZY is on to something here. Rather than collect and remove all the sizeable space junk, maybe some of the largest bits can be retrofitted with some sort of rocket booster and control device. In this way the “junk” can be repurposed to deflect possible future small asteroid collisions with the Earth? Not sure if it would be cheaper to retrofit junk that’s already in LEO or GO or to launch purpose built rockets from Earth?

Aqua4U
Member
November 30, 2010 1:47 PM

The thing is… the Russians ARE building a nuclear electric (MHD) rocket engines. Believe me, should this technology work out, most of the time those vehicles will be far enough away from Earth, it won’t be a problem. Mars transit(s) will originate from Lunar orbit.

Aqua4U
Member
November 30, 2010 1:51 PM

That is to say.. low power output near the Earth, slingshot around the Moon and stomp on the accelerator!

Aqua4U
Member
November 30, 2010 2:00 PM

Lets assume the Russian intend to orbit such a device. It seems logical to think it would be located in a very high orbit, geosynchronous or even at a Lagrange point?

Aqua4U
Member
November 30, 2010 2:02 PM

..Lagrange point, meaning where a permanent power source might reside for multiple aps.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
November 30, 2010 5:50 PM
Sending something to the sun is hard. The reason is the following. In heliocentric coordinates the Earth orbits the sun at 29.5km/sec. To get something to fall into the sun it requires the mass be sent on a velocity v = 29.5km/sec in the opposite direction the Earth orbits. Then the sun’s gravity can take over and it falls right in. To send a craft on a velocity with v = 29.5km/sec requires a lot of fuel. The fastest launch vehicle can send a craft at about 14-15km/sec, and escape velocity from the solar system is 50km.3km/sec, which with the Earth’s velocity is a delta vee = 20.8km/sec. We are not able to muster this up, so we… Read more »
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
Member
The Eclectic Exterminator of Stupid Electricians
November 30, 2010 9:55 PM
For heaven sake…. Bravo! Good old Russians have decided to do some about the problem that the Americans,, basically refuse point blank to do anything about it! I’ve already made too many comments on this very subject over the years to UT stories — that don’t bear repeating again; but one point need repeating….. American satellites have the majority of the space junk and stuff up there (and have lost or dumped the most, I.e. from gloves to toolbagss), that it ought to be doing something about it. As we have historically learnt from all the failing rubbish falling from the sky and onto foreign territory, most of these US agencies couldn’t give a tinkers toss, unless of… Read more »
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