Lockheed Martin is clearing up space junk

The defence giant has teamed up with an Australian tech company to track dangerous space waste.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 15 Jul 2015

Humanity’s record at keeping the planet clean and tidy isn’t exactly great, so it should come as no surprise that we’ve managed to trash space too. Detritus from hundreds of smashed-up space rockets and old satellites whizz around the planet at up to 17,500mph, threatening the 2,000 operational commercial and government satellites in orbit.

Now, defence giant Lockheed Martin has teamed up with Australian telescope manufacturer Electro Optics Systems (EOS) to create a new system for tracking this space litter. The new system will assess the location, speed and rotation of the 300,000 or so man-made objects in orbit using lasers, at a lower cost than current radar-based methods.  

Designing, building and getting a satellite into space aren’t exactly cheap, so having one of these pieces of space litter hit yours can be seriously bad for business. Travelling at up to 17,500mph, these objects, most of which are less than 10cm across, can cause catastrophic damage, in the process of course creating more pieces of space junk.

Lockheed and EOS hope the new system will give early warning against these impacts, allowing satellites to be moved into a slightly different orbit to avoid collision. It will involve the construction of a monitoring site in Western Australia, due to be operational by the beginning of 2016. You might want to hold off before launching anything into space before then, just to be on the safe side.

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