Swiss Space Program Targets Thousands Of Pieces Of 'Orbital Debris' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Swiss Space Program Targets Thousands Of Pieces Of 'Orbital Debris'

Countries pursue space programs for a variety of reasons — to communicate faster; to track the weather; to spy on one another; to prove they, too, can put something in space. Leave it to Switzerland to launch a project that has the simple goal of keeping things tidy.

As Global Post reports, the Swiss Space Center's CleanSpace One project is the start of an effort to clean up some of the space junk currently orbiting the Earth.

Over at NASA's Orbital Debris office, they estimate that there are "approximately 19,000 objects larger than 10 cm" known to be in orbit. Those objects can endanger working satellites — and when they collide, even more space junk is created.

Enter the Swiss. They've only been putting things into orbit for a few years now, but now that they've gotten a look at the Earth's debris field, they've decided to do something about it — like playing Felix to the rest of the world's Oscar.

GP's Thomas Mucha writes, "In other words, they're planning to launch giant vacuum cleaners into space to suck up debris, and then safely send it back down to earth."

At the website for Switzerland's Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne, the process is explained in more technical detail:

"After its launch, the cleanup satellite will have to adjust its trajectory in order to match its target's orbital plane. To do this, it could use a new kind of ultra-compact motor designed for space applications that is being developed in EPFL laboratories. When it gets within range of its target, which will be traveling at 28,000 km/h at an altitude of 630-750 km, CleanSpace One will grab and stabilize it – a mission that's extremely dicey at these high speeds, particularly if the satellite is rotating."

Here's a video they made to help explain it:

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Between The Laughs, South African Comedian Hopes To Educate

Trevor Noah, a new international correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, turns a sharp eye on American policy — while answering the questions about world news that people are afraid to ask.
NPR

Will Environmentalists Fall For Faux Fish Made From Plants?

A handful of chefs and food companies are experimenting with fish-like alternatives to seafood. But the market is still a few steps behind plant-based products for meat and dairy.
NPR

Republicans Gather To Galvanize, Share Ideas At 'Freedom Summit'

On Saturday, prominent Republicans from across the country headed to Iowa for the annual Freedom Summit, which supports "pro-growth economics, social conservatism and a strong national defense."
NPR

Virtual Games Try To Generate Real Empathy For Faraway Conflict

A corner of the video game industry is covering the news through immersive experiences. One game transports players into the middle of the Syrian civil war.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.