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Algorithm Could Help Clean Up Space Trash Safely And Effectively

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sphereFor a terrestrial civilization, we sure have made a whole bunch of space trash, including approximately “22,000 objects larger than the size of a softball,” and a bunch smaller than that, most of which come from old satellites (can we start a cosmic recycling program for these?) If you’ve seen Gravity you know how dangerous space trash can be, it can also essentially multiply as it continues colliding. The problem is that it’s not clear whose responsibility it is to clean this mess up, given that waste collection and disposal services don’t exactly make it out that far. It’s also dangerous to collect this trash, as objects can move quick and crazy in space. Researchers at MIT have now developed an algorithm to help crews anticipate the movement of space junk so they can more easily snatch it up.

The technique was recently tested at the ISS where astronauts used SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellite) satellites, which are devices for testing various technologies in zero gravity. The SPHERES are pretty ingenious—they behave like satellites, so they’re the perfect proving ground, and they’re also small enough to actually be tested inside the ISS, which is what they did here. Astronauts equipped a SPHERE with a couple of linked cameras that filmed another satellite that was spinning around in the air.

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Why You Have NASA To Thank For The Super Bowl

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Astronaut Rick Mastracchio talks Superbowl

Astronaut Rick Mastracchio talks Superbowl

In a few hours, an absurd number of people will watch the spectacle that is the Super Bowl. And they’ll probably watch a little football, too. I’ll be watching, but only out of an effort to be socially acceptable. I saw Richard Sherman go nutso on that reporter, so who knows what he’ll say and do tonight, and I’m all for celebrating the fact that the two teams playing are from two states that have legalized recreational marijuana. Beyond that…well, let’s just say I have a slight inclination for the Broncos, but only because my hometown college hockey team was the Western Michigan University Broncos. However, I just found another reason to get behind the Super Bowl—it indirectly owes its existence, or at least its widespread broadcast, to NASA.

Proponents of investing in NASA and space exploration often argue that technologies originally developed for some use in space have resulted in technological breakthroughs here on the ground. These are referred to as spinoff technologies. Neil deGrasse Tyson specifically cites to the Hubble telescope. The device had a bum lens for a few years, but when scientists tried out different technology to work around the lens problems, they realized that it could revolutionize mammogram imaging. Similarly, a number of aspects of tonight’s game arguably wouldn’t exist if not for space science.

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Japanese Space Agency Will Pick Up Our Space Trash With A Big Magnetic Net

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space netHumans don’t just litter on planet Earth — our waste has made it all the way to space. But especially after seeing Gravity, it’s difficult to imagine any astronauts wanting to mess with all the space junk out there. So JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, has come up with a solution: a big ol’ magnetic net to round up all our space trash.

There’s far more space junk out there than we could imagine — hundreds of thousands of chunks from our various satellites and other spacecraft are, just as they do in Gravity, orbiting the planet at great speeds. A report released a couple weeks ago by the Congressional Research Service estimates that “roughly 22,000 objects larger than the size of a softball and hundreds of thousands of smaller fragments” litter Earth’s orbit, and that this debris “potentially threatens U.S. national security interests in space, both governmental (military, intelligence, and civil) and commercial.” Even a small object, about 10 centimeters wide,m could destroy a satellite. In 2007, China launched an anti-satellite test — a missile that blew apart one of their old weather satellites and generated a large percentage of the debris mentioned in the earlier figure. Just a couple of years later, a U.S. commercial satellite ran into an old Russian satellite, generating even more debris. There’s so much space trash out there that experts worry that it could cause serious collisions every 5-9 years. Astrophysicist Donald Kessler was worried about this back in the 1970s — the Kessler syndrome is an ongoing process of collisions generating ever more space debris.