SYDNEY (Reuters) — It may sound like
science fiction but an Australian team is working on a project to zap
orbital debris with lasers from Earth to reduce the growing amount of
space junk that threatens to knock out satellites with a "cascade of
The project is very realistic and likely to be working in the next
10 years, Matthew Colless, director of Australian National
University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, told
"It's important that it's possible on that scale because there's so
much space junk up there," he said. "We're perhaps only a couple of
decades away from a catastrophic cascade of collisions ... that
takes out all the satellites in low orbit."
Scientists believe there are more than 300,000 pieces of debris in
space, made up of everything from tiny screws and bolts to large
parts of rockets, mostly moving in low orbits around Earth at
Australia now has a contract with NASA, the U.S. space agency, to
track and map space junk with a telescope equipped with an infra-red
laser at Mount Stromlo Observatory.
But $20 million from the Australian government and $40 million in
private investment will help the team set up as the Cooperative
Research Centre (CRC) to develop better lasers to track tiny pieces
of debris, importing techniques from astronomy used to remove the
blurring of the atmosphere.
The ultimate aim is to increase the power of the lasers to
illuminate and zap pieces of junk so they burn up harmlessly as they
fall through the upper atmosphere.