Orbital debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) are now sufficiently dense that the use of LEO space is threatened by runaway collision cascading. A problem predicted more than thirty years ago, the threat from debris larger than about 1 cm demands serious attention. A promising proposed solution uses a high power pulsed laser system on the Earth to make plasma jets on the objects, slowing them slightly, and causing them to re-enter and burn up in the atmosphere. In this paper, we reassess this approach in light of recent advances in low-cost, light-weight modular design for large mirrors, calculations of laser-induced orbit changes and in design of repetitive, multi-kilojoules lasers, that build on inertial fusion research. These advances now suggest that laser orbital debris removal (LODR) is the most cost-effective way to mitigate the debris problem. No other solutions have been proposed that address the whole problem of large and small debris. A LODR system will have multiple uses beyond debris removal. International cooperation will be essential for building and operating such a system.
Advances in Space Research
- Pub Date:
- May 2012
- Physics - Space Physics;
- Astrophysics - Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics
- 37 pages, 15 figures, in preparation for submission to Advances in Space Research