Lots of little and big pieces of space junk are making Earth's orbit an increasingly polluted and hazardous place. What to do about it? A Wired piece reports on a proposal to hit space junk with lasers to cause plasma jets that will de-orbit the junk.
The heat from the laser blasts would vaporize a minuscule part of a piece of space junk, resulting in a plasma jet that could slow the object down enough to bring it out of Earth orbit.
“You’re essentially creating a laser-powered rocket, using the object to be its own fuel,” said engineer Claude Phipps of the company Photonic Associates, LLC, who co-authored the laser-removal paper, published Oct. 17 on arxiv.
This is a cool idea. Lots of other ideas (see the article) involve lots of mass up in Earth's orbit moving around trying to catch the junk. Getting the fuel to do this up into orbit is quite expensive. But energy on the ground is a lot cheaper. So laser beams from the ground have real potential if the targeting problem can be solved. Anyone know how hard that problem is?