Robots, lasers could help haul in space junk

Frank Jordans / The Associated Press /

Published Apr 26, 2013 at 05:00AM

BERLIN — Nets, harpoons and suicide robots could become weapons of choice to hunt down the space junk threatening crucial communications satellites currently in orbit round Earth, scientists said Thursday.

Even lasers that act like “Star Trek” tractor beams were among the proposals put forward to protect some $100 billion worth of satellites from manmade cosmic garbage.

“Whatever we do is going to be an expensive solution,” Heiner Klinkrad, a space debris expert at the European Space Agency, said at the end of an international conference on space debris in Darmstadt, Germany. “But one has to compare the costs of what we are investing to solve the problem as compared to losing the infrastructure that we have in orbit.”

Experts estimate that about 27,000 objects measuring 10 centimeters (4 inches) or more are flying through orbit at 80 times the speed of a passenger jet, Klinkrad said.