Could anyone make money from cleaning up man-made space debris?

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False Prophet
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Could anyone make money from cleaning up man-made space debris?

Post by False Prophet » Thu Jan 07, 2021 8:11 am

It's a given that even a smallest piece of debris in space could cause disastrous damage if impact at high speed. So, in any scenario which space travel in and out of Earth become common place, would there be any organizations or entities taking up the job of cleaning up these debris? And would that be a profitable venture, or would it depends wholly on the governments to do it by themselves?

Mafty
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Re: Could anyone make money from cleaning up man-made space debris?

Post by Mafty » Thu Jan 07, 2021 11:29 am

It seems plausible that this could eventually happen, especially if/when we expand more into space. As for if it would be a government venture or a business one, that remains to be seen. Especially because people are even now debating over who can have control and organization in space.

Also there is a manga called Planet's which deals with this theme in depth.

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Seto Kaiba
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Re: Could anyone make money from cleaning up man-made space debris?

Post by Seto Kaiba » Thu Jan 07, 2021 2:45 pm

False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jan 07, 2021 8:11 am
It's a given that even a smallest piece of debris in space could cause disastrous damage if impact at high speed. So, in any scenario which space travel in and out of Earth become common place, would there be any organizations or entities taking up the job of cleaning up these debris? And would that be a profitable venture, or would it depends wholly on the governments to do it by themselves?
Given the kind of resources it takes to actually get a spacecraft into orbital space with our current technology, odds are any near-future orbital cleanup effort would have to take the form of an international joint effort. Either as an international government project or through the creation of a global non-governmental organization for the project like Macross's OTEC, Gundam's Colony Public Corporation, etc.

We'd likely not see this until space travel was economical enough for spacecraft to be launched on a regular basis to do something as menial as sweeping debris from orbital space... and would probably disappear once someone either developed energy shielding or a hull material too durable to sustain serious damage from impacts as tends to be the norm in sci-fi.
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MythSearcher
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Re: Could anyone make money from cleaning up man-made space debris?

Post by MythSearcher » Thu Jan 07, 2021 10:53 pm

False Prophet wrote:
Thu Jan 07, 2021 8:11 am
It's a given that even a smallest piece of debris in space could cause disastrous damage if impact at high speed. So, in any scenario which space travel in and out of Earth become common place, would there be any organizations or entities taking up the job of cleaning up these debris? And would that be a profitable venture, or would it depends wholly on the governments to do it by themselves?
No, and not in the foreseeable future.

First, considering the Delta V of getting all the debris up there, while you only need a slight nudge to de-orbit the debris and have it drop back to Earth, getting something up there to give a nudge to any debris will cost you pretty much the same Delta V if not more because you need to have a lot of course correction, not to mention how much propellant you will need if you want to do multiple debris nudging. The reason of debris being so dangerous is that they are at such a high relative velocity to your satellite or spaceship, and they are so because you cannot match all of their orbital speeds since they are travelling in many different directions. So, if you match the speed of one of them, you may get lucky and a few others are in relatively low speeds and are close enough, but after you get these, you will have to change your orbit by a lot to match another group of debris. You may be imagining the debris field like what they show in anime, where once you get to a certain location with tons of debris and match their speed, everything seems to be calm and you have lots and lots of debris there to work with. Reality is not like that, or at least we do not have so much debris to work with, yet.
Pictures like this one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_deb ... EO1280.jpg
are not to scale. Each of those white dots are mostly just 1cm or less in size, and you get less than 1% between 1~10 cm, and 0.026% >10cm.
Here are the numbers: https://www.esa.int/Safety_Security/Spa ... he_numbers
34000 objects greater than 10 cm
900000 objects from greater than 1 cm to 10 cm
128 million objects from greater than 1 mm to 1 cm
Sounds a lot, but the Earth is about 12800km in diameter, even if the smallest 128 million objects are all 1cm in size, lining them up side by side in a line will still only get you about 1/31 of the Earth's circumference. If you consider the area, Low Earth Orbit at 300km altitude has about 5.64X10^18 cm^2, the 1.28X10^8 1cm^2 pieces each has 4.4 km^2 of area to spare. This is how much space you will have on average between the debris pieces. Yes, you won't even be able to see the next piece most of the time. (a 1cm or less piece in 2km away, I can't see it, you will have a hard time sniping it even if it is human size since that is the current sniper record.)
AAANNNDDD, if you consider 3-dimensional space you will find them are actually even further apart from each other.
Not saying that it is not a serious problem, if you think about the speed satellites are travelling at (about 7.8km/s), you will understand the potential of impact isn't really low even if they are that far apart. But randomly hitting something is totally different from getting close to them closely.

Secondly, the simplest form of selling the debris as material will not grant you much money. The material aren't really worth as much as the cost to launch them up there.
Okay, you may be able to sell the relatively intact satellite to an opposing nation since it may consist of top secret technology. Well, maybe, yes, but now the country of origin of that satellite will hunt you down for it, and you can only work for a limited number of nations now. Also, these intact satellites won't be littering all over the places(notice the 34000 number up there? Only a very small fraction of that are relatively intact satellites) and if there are really top secret, they likely already de-orbited it when they can. And if you are getting near one, since everybody is watching, everyone will know, and you will have a really hard time if you try to negotiate a sale up there with everyone having the ability to blow you up in pieces during your reentry.
Selling the satellites back to their original owner of course will not get you a lot of money as well.
So the last thing you can do is maybe sell the really old ones as antique? That is an unknown market but I have real doubts that you can sell them for prices in thousands of millions, eve in auctions. Also, these things aren't small, you will have a really hard time fitting them into your reentry capsule.

Thirdly, no body is going to be paying for a clean up operation. Simply put, if they think it should really be cleaned up, they would have already launch ships themselves to do so. Obviously until recently, only the government agencies have the ability to launch orbital flights. All of them have studied to some degree about debris removal, but we really don't see much effort put into it. Out-sourcing isn't new in space tech, NASA is out-sourcing launch to SpaceX, they also sign contracts to buy Moon rocks from private companies, but we are still waiting to see them looking for debris removal.

The most viable option might be a laser array doing so automatically, in space or on the Ground, but both methods have their own difficulties. Ablate some material on the debris to act as propellant, and the force will nudge it a bit and hasten up its de-orbiting.
Seto Kaiba wrote:
Thu Jan 07, 2021 2:45 pm
We'd likely not see this until space travel was economical enough for spacecraft to be launched on a regular basis to do something as menial as sweeping debris from orbital space... and would probably disappear once someone either developed energy shielding or a hull material too durable to sustain serious damage from impacts as tends to be the norm in sci-fi.
Hull material part is hard.
A 1cm diameter debris gives you about the energy of 1kg of TNT at 10km/s, focused on that point of impact, mostly turned into the form of heat and can vaporise whatever comes into contact.
Energy Shielding is also kinda hard until we have some kind of ultra high energy storage systems, and to my knowledge, we really don't have any viable energy field theories that can act as energy shielding other than the 3M force field story or a laser array shooting off debris, and maybe a more advanced version of this: https://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/pubaf/pr/200 ... 21101b.htm

False Prophet
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Re: Could anyone make money from cleaning up man-made space debris?

Post by False Prophet » Fri Jan 08, 2021 7:39 am

MythSearcher wrote:
Thu Jan 07, 2021 10:53 pm
The most viable option might be a laser array doing so automatically, in space or on the Ground, but both methods have their own difficulties. Ablate some material on the debris to act as propellant, and the force will nudge it a bit and hasten up its de-orbiting.
Could you maybe elaborate about the difficulties of setting up such a system? Like, how much energy would something like that need? I'm not so sure about the geographical influence of Earth on laser, but didn't it cause a lot of problem to the US when they tried to put a laser on an aircraft and call it the next-generation missile interceptor?
Seto Kaiba wrote:
Thu Jan 07, 2021 2:45 pm
We'd likely not see this until space travel was economical enough for spacecraft to be launched on a regular basis to do something as menial as sweeping debris from orbital space... and would probably disappear once someone either developed energy shielding or a hull material too durable to sustain serious damage from impacts as tends to be the norm in sci-fi.
If I remember correctly, didn't some astronomers complained about the debris being a hinder to their observation? Then again, I could be mistaken with something else. Apparently what I can recall is that light pollution on the ground is really, really bad for ground observatories, and if Elon Musk's plan to launch hundreds of satellites onto the orbit success, it will make things even worse.

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Re: Could anyone make money from cleaning up man-made space debris?

Post by MythSearcher » Fri Jan 08, 2021 1:08 pm

False Prophet wrote:
Fri Jan 08, 2021 7:39 am

Could you maybe elaborate about the difficulties of setting up such a system? Like, how much energy would something like that need? I'm not so sure about the geographical influence of Earth on laser, but didn't it cause a lot of problem to the US when they tried to put a laser on an aircraft and call it the next-generation missile interceptor?
If you set it up on the ground, your greatest difficulties will be air and relative velocity.
Thing in orbit move VERY fast relative to the ground, about 7.8~9km/s depending on your orbit shape, but that is still not your biggest concern, because you face even faster relative velocities in space.
The air in between you and any target not only absorb the laser's energy, it also disperse, diffract, refract laser. Basically, the same thing as telescopes: https://www.atnf.csiro.au/outreach/educ ... phere.html
Sad thing is, if you put your laser array in space, it faces another problem, no, not the same as telescopes because telescopes look far far away, debris you are trying to deal with are in orbit with you.
So, the first problem you face will be power. Aiming takes power, shooting the laser takes power, basically everything you do in space either takes power or propellant, or both. Using solar power isn't going to give you much, at least not really efficient if you want something to just keep shooting debris down. You will have to have really large solar panels and that means the laser array is going to have a higher chance of being hit by debris.
Secondly, relative speed is going to be either really slow to 15km/s yes, since the array will be in orbit, it is going to be moving at 7.8km/s relative to the ground(the Earth's centre, actually), and anything moving in the same direction is going to be at low relative velocity but anything in the opposite direction will be double of that, and you get all the others in other directions. You can move the array very far away so it slows down.(like in the GEO or GSO) but then you are now very far from most of the debris and your laser need to have higher power due to the inverse square law.
If I remember correctly, didn't some astronomers complained about the debris being a hinder to their observation? Then again, I could be mistaken with something else. Apparently what I can recall is that light pollution on the ground is really, really bad for ground observatories, and if Elon Musk's plan to launch hundreds of satellites onto the orbit success, it will make things even worse.
Most recently astronomers are complaining about SpaceX's https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starlink
Go to the light pollution section for details.


Yes, we are closing in on Kessler Syndrome, but well, that is only one of our grave concerns I guess.

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