Scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a team of Stanford engineers have teamed up to create a nature-inspired trash collector designed to grab free-floating space debris with the sticky grip of a gecko, reports Maya Dangerfield.
— Tim Peake (@astro_timpeake) May 12, 2016
Collisions between orbiting objects — basically the detritus of humankind’s fascination with and dependence upon satellites — pose a threat to important systems on the ground, reports the Chrisitan Science Monitor.
The problem is that satellites generally have short life expectancies, says CSM, rarely lasting longer than a decade. In fact, the Department of Defense tracks tens of thousands of objects in Earth’s orbit but estimates that millions of shards left over from previous explosions or collisions, though too small to track, are currently caught in Earth’s orbit too.
More than 1,300 working satellites currently circle Earth, at speeds up to 25,000 mph, providing navigation signals and television programs to millions around the world.
“Everybody recognizes that this is a problem, and that the problem is getting worse, but it’s not clear exactly whose job it is to clean it up,” says Jet Propulsion Laboratory robotics researcher Aaron Parness.