New Delhi: We hear about particulate matter polluting cities on a daily basis. It is a worrying situation, no doubt, but scientists are also concerned about the pollution in space.
According to NASA, there are over 50,000 pieces of debris (space junk) traveling at speeds up to 17,500 mph around the Earth, the movements of which are being constantly monitored and tracked.
The rising population of space debris increases the potential danger to all space vehicles, but especially to the International Space Station (ISS), space shuttles, satellites and other spacecraft.
In December 2016, Japan sent H-II Transfer Vehicle Kounotori 6 (HTV6) into space to deliver supplies to the ISS. The same cargo ship was also supposed to complete another mission during its return journey – clean up space debris.
However, the experimental Japanese probe failed in its mission to clear space junk from the Earth’s orbit.
Now, scientists are developing an ultra-thin spacecraft that can remove space debris – which potentially threaten satellites or astronauts – by enveloping junk in the Earth’s orbit and dragging it through the atmosphere, causing it to burn up.
The Brane Craft, being developed by US-based Aerospace Corporation, is a flexible and less than half the thickness of a human hair.
“It has to be bullet-proof, because a 5-micron diameter particle can penetrate the main structural sheet, which is only 10 microns thick,” said Siegfried Janson, principal investigator and a senior scientist at Aerospace Corporation.
The spacecraft is designed to be resilient. Its microprocessor and digital electronics are fabricated in a way to ensure that if one component gets damaged, the others will continue to work.
For example, if one solar cell gets hit by a micrometeorite, only that cell will fail, ‘Seeker’ reported.
The project received funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts programme, which focuses on space research that are in early stages.
Brane Crafts will be powered by ultrathin solar cells as well as a little bit of propellant. The company plans to launch the craft frequently, with many Branes deployed at the same time, helping to reduce costs.
After each Brane envelops a piece of space junk, it will navigate back to towards Earth, causing the junk to burn up in the atmosphere.
(With PTI inputs)