Space junk, such as defunct satellites and other debris, poses a significant risk to operating satellites and astronauts aboard the International Space Station. To address this concern, NASA has awarded a contract to TransAstra, a startup company working on capturing and mining asteroids for minerals. However, the same technology could also be used to clean up space debris.
TransAstra intends to use unstaffed capture bags to contain the space junk, similar to trash and recycling pickup services on Earth. One category of debris they will target is CubeSats, small satellites the size of a Rubik’s Cube. After collecting the debris, there are two options for disposal. The first involves dropping the waste into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up. The second option, proposed by ThinkOrbital, is to establish recycling centers in outer space that can process objects like CubeSats.
The recycling centers would allow the collected debris to be recycled and transformed into raw materials for building other objects. This approach would help minimize additional pollution on Earth. The goal is to ensure that none of the space debris returns to Earth and that it remains stored in space.
Although TransAstra aims to demonstrate this technology within the next one to two years, there are various technological challenges to overcome, such as capturing tumbling debris without causing the retrieval craft to tumble itself. Additionally, international cooperation is crucial in addressing the issue of space junk. Establishing a global consensus on funding mechanisms for tackling space debris may prove challenging.
In summary, TransAstra’s innovative technology could potentially play a crucial role in cleaning up space junk. By capturing and storing debris, or recycling it at dedicated centers in space, the risk to operational satellites and the International Space Station can be significantly reduced.