Science-Technology, Americas

Canada wants ideas on how clean up space

Millions of pieces of junk pose threat to astronauts, International Space Station

Barry Ellsworth   | 09.08.2019
Canada wants ideas on how clean up space


The Canadian government issued a call for ideas on how to unclutter millions of pieces of space junk, it was announced Friday.

There is 128 million pieces of debris from 0.04 inches (1 millimeter) to 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) in size in space, and another 900,000 from one centimeter to 10 centimeters (4 inches), according to the European Space Agency.

Another 34,000 objects were more than 10 centimeters.

Collisions with the garbage could imperil astronauts and severely damage satellites and the International Space Station (ISS).

“The stuff that’s floating in orbit is moving at five to seven kilometers [3 to 4.3 miles] a second,” said Paul Delany, professor of astronomy and physics at York University in Toronto. “If they’re traveling parallel with each other it’s not a big issue, but we’ve got orbits that are what we call equatorial and polar so there is the possibility for these t-bone collisions.”

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces want scientists and researchers to create “viable and cost-effective solutions for tracking and de-orbiting space debris in order to reduce the collision threat for orbiting space systems.”

Harpooning and nets have been tried and are not satisfactory.

“It’s difficult because of the volume and the size of the particles in question,” said Delaney.

He said about once a month, the ISS must maneuver to avoid collision with junk, although that the possibility of a collision is small.

Because removal of the junk is expensive, “every single space agency hasn’t got the funding to expand to try and solve the problem,” he said.

The deadline for proposals is Aug. 22.

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