The Engineer Q&A: Space debris

19 March 2014

Your chance to question our expert panel about dealing with the space debris that orbits Earth.

The threat posed by the millions of pieces of debris orbiting the Earth to our now-crucial space infrastructure has been a growing concern of scientists and engineers and, increasingly, the wider public for a number of years now. It’s even become the topic of an Oscar-winning film.

But while plenty of ideas have been put forward as ways to clean up our space junkyard, no mission has yet been confirmed to put any of them into action. There’s not even an international treaty to minimise the creation of space debris.

For the latest of our reader Q&As, send us your questions about the technical and practical challenges of dealing with this pressing problem and we’ll have a panel of experts in the field provide answers.

Some of the ideas for removing pieces of space debris include:

  • rounding them up with a large, passive sky sweeper;
  • capturing them with a tractor beam;
  • grabbing them with a harpoon or mechanical claw;
  • using lasers to shoot them out of orbit;
  • equiping new satellites with sails to pull them out of orbit when their mission is over.

Use the comments box below to send us your questions about any of the technologies above or about the topic in general by the end of Thursday and we’ll publish the responses in the next issue of The Engineer magazine and here on the website.

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