image credit: European Space Agency

Space is not the sterile expanse of nothingness we might picture it to be. In fact, the space around Earth, much like the Earth itself, is littered with our junk.

NASA estimates that there are some 18,000 pieces of space trash, each 10cm wide or larger, orbiting the Earth. Honestly, to me that doesn’t sound like that much, but there are a lot more smaller bits of space debris and the amount is ever-increasing. Ad that to the face that its all orbiting at a speed of 18,000 mph (coincidence??) or 21,000 km per hr, which poses a significant danger to military satellites and astronauts who may happen to be out on their morning space walk.

And so the US military wants to clean up all this space debris with a giant net.

From an article in the Observer:

Plans for something called the Electrodynamic Debris Eliminator (Edde) have just been revealed by a company called Star Inc, with funding from the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency. This is a 100kg spacecraft with 200 nets attached, which can scoop up dead satellites or other stray junk. The craft can then guide the junk into a safe orbit around the Earth or else direct it to glide safely into the middle of the ocean.

As the space around our planet gets more crowded, collisions are more likely – and colliding spaceships and satellites means more and more space debris. According to the European Space Agency (ESA) these collisions have doubled over the past 10 years.

For more on this story, check out the following article in the Economist:

Junk science: Scientists are increasingly worried about the amount of debris orbiting the Earth

Additional resources:

European Space Agency – Space debris: evolution in pictures