Space junk is naturally of concern to space-travel heavyweights. For example, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has drawn up plans for a "Deos" satellite that could also dispose of larger counterparts. But it's anybody's guess whether the orbiter will ever make the leap from the drawing board into space.
Currently, space junk is usually just watched. US Strategic Command, the Department of Defense command whose mission includes space operations and missile defense, keeps a constantly growing list of all the disused objects in orbit. And the Europeans intend to build up their own radar capabilities for that purpose. Just a few days ago, the DLR reported a successful testing of a high-powered laser system that might even be able to detect space objects that are only a few fingers wide. Despite their miniature size, even these objects can prove dangerous to satellites and the International Space Station (ISS).
"It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation," says Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier.
High Time to Clean Up Space
One of the most attractive aspects of the "CleanSpace One" project is that it will reportedly be downright cheap. Initial estimates put the costs for both its production and launch at 10 million Swiss francs (€8.3 million/$10.8 million).
If the "CleanSpace One" ever really makes it off the ground, the project would arrive at the right time. Just a few months ago -- or roughly 20 years after his first warning -- Donald Kessler started signaling the alarm again. As the head writer on a recent report by the National Research Council (NRC), he warned that the amount of junk in space has reached a "tipping point."
The report warned that there are already so many small pieces of space debris that they are in constant risk of slamming into each other and splintering even further.
When it comes to man's mess in space, Kessler says, "we've lost control of the environment."
Translated from the German by Josh Ward.