Russia Will Spend $2 Billion on a Space Drone to Tidy up Orbit

By Jennifer Welsh | November 30, 2010 4:33 pm

space-junkYesterday, the Russian space agency Roscosmos confirmed news from last week that they are pursuing plans to spend $2 billion cleaning up space debris. In a striking contrast to the secrecy that once cloaked space programs, the confirmation came via an announcement on Roscosmos’s official Facebook page:

Russia will build a special orbital pod that would sweep up satellite debris from space around the Earth.The cleaning satellite would work on nuclear power and would be capable to work up to 15 years. Energia said in a statement that the company would complete the cleaning satellite assembly by 2020 and test the device no later than in 2023.

Energia is the Russian space corporation that builds the nation’s rockets, space station components, and more. Previous reports stated that the aim of the pod would be to intercept 600 dead satellites and push them out of orbit, allowing them to burn up in the earth’s atmosphere or splash down harmlessly into the ocean.

The pod will most likely have a nuclear core that powers an ion drive, says Fast Company, in which accelerated ionized gas particles would provide thrust to the pod as it makes it way from debris chuck to debris chunk. The pod would then nudge the decrepit and dangerous satellites out of their orbits, sending them spiraling towards the earth.

The first burst of news last week, which came from the Chinese news agency Xinhua in response to a report by Russian news agency Interfax, also noted the space agency’s plan to build a comet interceptor, which could be powered and controlled in the same way, to protect the earth from wayward chunks of rock that might be headed in our direction.

Of course, the technology for both a debris pod and comet interceptor would also make those particular spacecraft very potent anti-satellite weapons in a hypothetical space war. But we’re probably better off not thinking too much about that. [Fast Company]

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Image: Wikimedia / NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
  • nick

    Bonus points if someone invents the idea of magnetically (or however) attracting smaller debris and then using a magnetic-bucket railgun to fire the debris into the atmosphere, providing extra lift (action-reaction pair) as well as getting rid of the debris.

    War has followed mankind everywhere. It will spill into space eventually, no matter how much territory there may theoretically be out there, only some of it is valuable. To us, anyway, as far as we currently know. Who knows, maybe we’ll find tons of dark matter in the solar system, a way to harvest it and a nice use for it.

  • Peter Sobolev

    Why do you think that it is _official_ Roscosmos page on Facebook? There are non-russian admins and I can’t find any link to it on official Roscosmos web site.

  • Brian Too

    Wow, if this is the real deal, go Russia!

    At last someone is trying to deal with the root of the space junk problem.

  • Realist

    Sure you will, Russia. Sure you will.

  • Michael

    Before you accuse me of an irrational paranoia, remember Stalin and the Katyn forest, etc.

    This apprears to be a thinly disguised attempt at a military satellite interceptor.

    Yea, go Russia! Continue the militarization of space.

    I’m just sayin’…

  • PJD

    Ha! it just dawned on me why no one has come to visit our lil out of the wya planet! They can’t SEE it for all the space debris built up over the last 50 years!

  • scott

    any form of trash clean up sounds good to me, i think it will have to be done at some point, like it or not, alterior motive or not as important satelites randomly smash together costing billions and creating havoc.

    if this does end as space wars, then we are a stupid species that destroys itself over ego and opinions. the scientists are no better…they work for the governments who want to control everyone creating things to allow this.

    i think there is some kind of genetic flaw, where humans actually like trash because i see it everywhere. on beaches, rivers, lakes, mountains, in every country i go to i see it, tossed on the streets, piled up somewhere (in space). and come on..people know its not right at some level, but little is done to address it. go to almost any beach or lake after a big rain for example and you will a rainbow of color from plastic crap floating in the water. huge, diesel spewing street sweepers each week cranking down my street collecting trash. the fact that those are even needed is sad and pathetic.

  • megan

    I’ve been wondering why they didn’t spend some of the space station orbits on tether capturing human manageable debris and then set it off on a slow degrade back into the atmosphere to burn or towards the sun. But some of the metals and stuff ARE VALUABLE. I always wished to get into space salvaging.

  • neorpheus

    well well well…, good job russia, like others i am concerned that this may turn out to be just a ploy to get a military satelite in orbit however i am glad something is being done about the junk up there (even if our comm sats count as junk). just to bad there wont be any job openings for earth orbit salvage ship operators any time soon

  • potatoe

    Well, the ‘US’ started with the Boeing X-37


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