An artistic interpretation of cluttered Earth orbits
Tens of millions of pieces of space debris currently orbit Earth – discarded rocket engines, outdated satellites, and the fragments remaining after explosions and collisions.
All this clutter poses a threat to manned space missions, as even a small piece of debris can seriously damage a spacecraft. And while most debris will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, larger objects could fall to the ground intact, threatening lives.
That is why Russia’s space corporation, Energia, is going to invest $2 billion to build a space pod to fly around and knock the junk out of orbit and out of our way.
Using an ion drive, a spacecraft propulsion that creates thrust by accelerating ions, the pod could gently nudge shredded metal and empty hulls of dead satellites out of orbit. This would open up orbits that are currently inaccessible to future spacecraft.
Energia plans to have completed testing on the pod by 2020 and to have it in service by 2023. It will have a nuclear power core and a lifespan of about 15 years, enough to make a significant dent in our space debris problem.
Energia is also working to develop an “interceptor” spacecraft using similar technology. This craft would be able to derail any incoming comets or meteors that might be hurtling towards Earth, changing their trajectory just enough to keep Earth safe.