Harpoons And Nets Snatch Space Junk From Orbit

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Written By Gholam Rahmani

Space above the Earth is getting so crowded that astronomers fear the latest satellites could pollute the night sky.

The numbers are amazing and almost unbelievable.

So far, around 40 countries have launched 8,100 satellites into orbit above the Earth.

About 4,900 are still up in the sky and probably half are still operational – that’s around 2,500 space craft.

The rest are junk cluttering space.

Meanwhile, communication and space exploration organisations are planning to launch hundreds more.

Working out what to do with all the junk orbiting the Earth has become a major headache for scientists who are trying to come up with ways to reduce the mess.

Unwanted space debris

Tests are underway to find out the best way of removing unwanted debris from space.

Rival teams are trying to harpoon some of the largest chunks of satellite for garbage packaging.

The other team wants to scoop the rubbish with a net.

Both lumps of collected trash should later burn up on entering the atmosphere and present no danger to the planet below.

Costing $18.5 million, RemoveDEBRIS is part funded by the European Commission and 10 private companies and carries the technology to complete both experiments.

If the tests work, a $400 million scheme aims to snare and de-orbit the disused Envisat satellite, which weighs in at eight tons.

More projects will follow aimed at decluttering the skies, estimated to weigh in at 7,500 tons of random garbage speeding around the Earth endangering current and future space missions.

Starlink pollution fears

Meanwhile, billionaire Elon Musk plans to launch 12,000 Starlink satellites as a global communications network.

Around 60 are already circling the planet, but astronomers fear so many more will pollute the night sky and change the nature of the stars and planets seen from the surface.

Musk says they will be unnoticeable, but scientists suggest they will be among the brightest objects in the night sky, slightly dimmer than the North Star, Polaris.

In terms of visibility, most satellites are around magnitude five to seven, while Polaris is magnitude two.

And Musk is not the only space entrepreneur planning a global communications satellite network.

OneWeb has a constellation of 650 satellites ready for launch.