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Antimatter Man
Join Date: May 2004
Location: that interweb thing
2009-11-16, 11:21

Bob Cringely proposes a Space Garbage Scow to clean up orbital debris.

<cue klingon/tribble fight>

Originally Posted by Cringely

My garbage scow would use a very fine net to capture the debris and hold it. The net could be built from kevlar, but this week I’m making everything from carbon nanotubes, thanks, so that’s what we’ll use. Nanotubes have the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any material and would allow us to make a very large, very light weight net. Our point here is to make the net light rather than strong, since our capture speeds will be low and the lack of gravity ought to make it easy to keep the junk tethered together. The point of making it strong, then, is so it can be light enough to be big enough to maybe gather all the junk — all 18,000 pieces — into a single scow.

I imagine a seine purse-style net, if you know your commercial fishing. Launch the net into an inclined polar orbit generally higher than the space junk to be harvested. The polar orbit will ensure that eventually the scow will go over every spot on the Earth as the planet rotates below, but it also means the scow will eventually cross the path of every piece of space junk.

Here’s where we need an algorithm and a honking big computer, because this is a 3-D geometry problem with more than 18,000 variables. Our algorithm determines the most efficient path to use for gathering all 18,000 pieces of space junk.

I haven’t yet derived this algorithm, but I have some idea what it would look like. We’d start in a high orbit, above the space junk, because we could trade that altitude for speed as needed, simply by flying lower, trading potential energy for kinetic.

... continues ...
Salvage 1 it ain't, but Bob apparently isn't known for his engineering chops either.

All those who believe in telekinesis, raise my hand.

Last edited by curiousuburb : 2009-11-16 at 11:39.