19 January 2018 News

Chinese study proposes using lasers to clear out space debris

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/JSC
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/JSC

A new study, conducted by researchers from the Information and Navigation College at China's Air Force Engineering University, with the help of the Institute of China Electronic Equipment System Engineering Company, suggests that lasers could be used to help the ever-growing space debris problem. Ever since man's first exploits in space, space debris has been accumulating in low Earth orbit and currently poses a major threat to both active satellites and the International Space Station.

The study, called "Impacts of orbital elements of space-based laser station on small scale space debris removal," was conducted by researchers from the Information and Navigation College at China's Air Force Engineering University, with the help of the Institute of China Electronic Equipment System Engineering Company and led by Quan Wen. The study used numerical simulations to see if an orbital station with a high-powered pulsed laser could make a dent in orbital debris and concluded that an orbiting laser with the same right ascension of ascending node (RAAN) as the debris itself would be effective at removing it.

According to Wen's study, "The simulation results show that, debris removal is affected by inclination and RAAN, and laser station with the same inclination and RAAN as debris has the highest removal efficiency. It provides necessary theoretical basis for the deployment of space-based laser station and the further application of space debris removal by using space-based laser."

China has not had a great track record with space debris. In 2007, a Chinese anti-satellite missile test resulted in the creation of over 3000 bits of space debris, which eventually caused severe damage to a Russian satellite. Most of this debris cloud will be in orbit for decades, continuing to pose a threat. As China's presence in space continues to grow, so do the country's efforts to deal with the growing debris issue.

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