Space Superfund Needed to Clean Mounting Orbital Trash

The orbits around Earth are cluttered with chunks of space junk – high-speed riffraff that poses a growing threat to robotic satellites and human-carrying spacecraft.

There are currently hundreds of thousands of pieces of space debris greater than 1 centimeter wide whizzing around in space. But while this space litter may be out of sight, out of mind for most of us, a new report on orbital debris has flagged potential solutions to deal with the threat.

The report anchors its space cleanup thinking and approaches to more down–to-Earth woes like acid rain, hazardous waste, chlorofluorocarbon and oil spills.

The same superfund approach to those earthly pollution problems could be reworked to tackle space junk, according to the report, which is titled “Confronting Space Debris – Strategies and Warnings from Comparable Examples Including Deepwater Horizon.” Superfund is the federal government’s program to clean up the nation’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

The monograph, compiled by the nonprofit global policy think tank RAND, was prepared for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The organization recently completed its “Catcher’s Mitt” study, an assessment that, in part, explores technically feasible solutions for debris removal.

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