Earth could develop “junk” rings – but engineers are working to prevent that

The earth could one day have its own ring system – one made from space junk.

Rendering of artificial objects in orbit. Image via ESA.

Whenever people are around, pollution seems to follow suit. Our planet’s orbit seems no exception. However, all is not lost yet! Research at the University of Utah is exploring new ideas on how to get rid of the buildup before it can get spaceships and their crews into even more trouble.

Their idea is to use a magnetic tractor beam to capture and remove debris that is orbiting the earth.

Don’t put a ring on it

“The earth is well on its way to having its own rings,” says Jake Abbott, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, corresponding author on the study for the Salt Lake Grandstand. “They’re only made from space junk.”

Earth is on its way to becoming the fifth planet in the solar system to receive planetary rings. However, unlike the rock and ice rings of Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus, the rings of the earth will be made of junk and junk. It would also be entirely man-made.

According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, there are an estimated 23,000 orbital debris larger than a softball; there are also a few hundred million pieces that are smaller than a softball. These travel at 17,500 mph (28,160 km / h) and pose an immense threat to satellites and space travel and hamper research efforts.

Because of their high speeds, removing these pieces of space junk is very risky – and difficult to remove.

“Most of this junk is spinning,” added Abbott. “Enough to stop it with a robotic arm, you’ll break the arm and create more rubble.”

A small part of this debris – around 200 to 400 – burns up in the earth’s atmosphere every year. However, new parts are entering orbit as the planet’s orbit becomes increasingly used and traversed. Plans by private companies to launch thousands of new satellites in the coming years will only make the problem worse.

Abbott’s team suggests using a magnetic device to capture debris or pull it into low orbit where it will eventually burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

“We basically developed the world’s first tractor beam,” he said Salt Lake Grandstand. “Now it’s just a question of technology. Build and start. “

The article “Dexterous Magnetic Manipulation of Conductive Non-Magnetic Objects” was published in the journal. released nature.

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