On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Space Program launched the first ever human into space. The world watched in awe at the power technology had granted us; to launch into the stars with the simplest of childish glee. However, as our eyes gazed into the heavens, we, and seemingly everyone else involved in the project, didn’t take notice of what was coming off the spaceship.
As more and more ships were sent into space and satellites along with them, the orbital field around Earth began to fill up. Slowly, thousands of manmade objects saturated the orbital field, and now, with satellite technology fueling most of our lives, with GPS, satellite internet and other advancements, scientist from around the world are thinking of solutions to clean up the mess we made. Engineers from the EPFL (Lausanne’s Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) has developed a way to do just that. Officially, the project is named Clean Space One, however, the design has earned it the nickname the “Pac Man” satellite.
The design of the satellite works like a kamikaze garbage truck. It goes to the object it plans to clean up, swallows the debris in a net; and then falls into orbit where it and the debris are destroyed by Earth’s atmosphere. The initial purpose of the project was to remove an old SwissCube satellite. The team faces many problems in their endeavors due to the difficult circumstances of directing an object once it’s in space. Such problems include: catching the junk without it bouncing out of the net, detecting it due to its change of light reflection since it’s rotating, dodging larger piece of debris so the garbage collector doesn’t become a piece of junk itself, matching the speed of the floating debris and so on. The project is moving smoothly as an official prototype is near completion.
Space debris is a huge problem that is only getting bigger as we ignore it. Debris from satellites, and rocket stages has amassed the amount of space junk to be 500,000. Different countries have suggested solutions to this problem. Japan, for instance, has suggested a project of destroying the trash with a laser from the International Space Station. The United States looks to stay out of the running for cleaning up space junk, as NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), has loss funding for their space program. However, hopes seem high for the start of the space junk cleanup, as EPFL’s Pac man satellite is estimated to launch in 2018.