Space Station Could Get Laser Cannon to Destroy Orbital Debris
The Extreme Universe Space Observatory telescope, originally built to detect cosmic rays from the International Space Station, could be used to detect potentially dangerous debris in orbit.
Space Station Astronauts Log One Million Photographs
April 4, 2012 --
Two Russian spacecraft -- a Soyuz and Progress cargo ship -- hang above the Earth, docked to the International Space Station (ISS) while green wisps of auroral activity complete the scene. On any average day, this photograph would be a beautiful reminder of the serenity of space and the ingenuity of mankind. But this isn't any "average" photograph. This is the one millionth photograph taken by astronauts and cosmonauts on board our orbiting outpost. This photo, along with an understated tweet from NASA astronaut Don Pettit, was posted on March 27: "1 millionth ISS photo. Part of time lapse series. Not sure who took it, Dan Burbank or myself. We can't remember pic.twitter.com/MjnkRm2S". In an email to The Atlantic, astronaut Ron Garan explained the details behind this one-millionth photo: "Almost every photo of the Earth is taken in what little free time the crew has (in our off-duty time). The crew does that because it really is enjoyable to share the view of our Earth with the public and we understand that we have a responsibility to do that." As the space station's astronauts have become more connected with Earth via social media platforms like Twitter, some incredible shots of space and life aboard the ISS have been shared with the world. Here are a few of the Discovery News editors' favorites from the "first million ISS photos" we have featured on the site.
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
The AMS During the final shuttle mission to the ISS, NASA spacewalker Ron Garan, took an exterior shot of the ISS and the recently delivered Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) in the foreground.
MORE: An Astronaut-Eye View of the Space Station
Credit: Ron Garan/NASA
15 Sunsets Every day, the astronauts aboard the ISS see 15 sunrises and 15 sunsets. Here's one sunset that Ron Garan witnessed in 2011.
MORE: An Awe-Inspiring Space Station Odyssey
Credit: NASA/JAXA/Soichi Noguchi
Endeavour Undocks, Leaves Cupola After installing new windows for the ISS -- the cupola pictured left -- shuttle Endeavour undocked and headed home in February 2010.
MORE: Endeavour Undocks, Begins Journey Home
Image credit: Soichi Noguchi/NASA
Making Space Music NASA's Stephen Robinson plays his guitar in the bay of the newly installed cupola in February 2010.
MORE: This Is What It's All About
Colorful Aurora As solar activity intensifies, ISS astronauts have a ringside seat of the stunning auroral displays in the Earth's atmosphere. This September 2011 technicolor display highlights the different atmospheric elements reacting to the bombardment of solar plasma.
MORE: Space Station Watches Technicolor Aurora Erupt
Snaking Aurora Another beautiful auroral scene captured by an ISS astronaut in June 2010 over the southern hemisphere. The green color is caused by the excitement of atmospheric oxygen.
MORE: Spectacular Aurora Ribbon Photographed by Astronaut
Space Meteor! In this stunning photograph by NASA astronaut Ron Garan, a single Perseid meteor was captured as the piece of comet dust slammed into the Earth's atmosphere in August 2011.
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Perseid Meteor... From Space
Comet Lovejoy On Dec. 21, 2011 NASA astronaut Dan Burbank photographed the dazzling comet Lovejoy as it hung above the Earth's horizon. This photo was taken only a few days after its close encounter with the sun. The green haze in the photo is known as "airglow."
MORE: Astronaut Photographs Comet Lovejoy... From Space
Hurricane Irene In August 2011, Hurricane Irene ravaged the U.S. East Coast. From their vantage point, astronauts aboard the ISS have an unparalleled view of our planet, so events like Irene can be closely monitored. It is for this reason why there is an extensive Earth observation program of which ISS astronauts have a large part to play.
MORE: Hurricane Irene from Space
Spacewalking NASA's spacewalking astronaut Mike Fossum points at the camera as he removes a failed ammonia pump module from the ISS during the final shuttle mission to the station in July 2011.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
Space Station Living There are a huge number of photographs of the Earth and space phenomena, but the collection also features an intimate perspective on life aboard a space station. NASA astronaut Sandy Magnus can be seen here floating inside the Raffaello multi-purpose logistics module among with months of ISS supplies during the final shuttle mission.
MORE: Inside Atlantis' Final Space Station Mission
To see more photographs from the space station and other manned NASA missions, be sure to browse the NASA Human Spaceflight gallery.
MORE ARTICLES BY IAN O'NEILL
The International Space Station could one day get armed with a laser to shoot down orbiting debris, researchers say.
This concept could eventually lead to a laser-firing satellite that could get rid of a large percentage of the most troublesome space junk orbiting Earth, scientists added.
NASA researchers suggest that nearly 3,000 tons of space debris reside in low-Earth orbit, including derelict satellites, rocket bodies and parts and tiny bits of wreckage produced by collisions involving larger objects. Impacts from pieces of junk that are only the size of screws can still inflict catastrophic damage on satellites, since these projectiles can travel at speeds on the order of 22,370 mph (36,000 km/h). [7 Wild Ideas to Clean Up Space Junk]
The problem of space debris is growing as more satellites and spacecraft get sent into space. Moreover, large pieces of junk can generate lots of small fragments if they get hit, and those fragments can then go on to strike other objects in orbit for a chain reaction of destruction.
Most spacecraft, including the International Space Station, can withstand impacts from debris smaller than about 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) with adequate shielding. However, ground-based radar and computer models suggest that more than 700,000 pieces of debris larger than 0.4 inches now orbit Earth. Although items larger than 4 inches (10 cm) are big enough for astronomers to spot, debris between 0.4 and 4 inches (1 to 10 cm) in size is significantly more difficult to identify and dodge.
Now researchers suggest the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO), scheduled to be installed on Japan’s module on the space station in 2017, could help the orbiting complex detect dangerous debris. They add that a powerful laser under development could then help shoot down this space garbage.
“The EUSO telescope, which was originally designed to detect cosmic rays, could also be put to use for this useful project,” study lead author Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, an astrophysicist and chief scientist at the RIKEN (Rikagaku Kenky?sho) Computational Astrophysics Laboratory in Wako, Japan, told Space.com.
EUSO was originally developed to detect ultraviolet light produced by ultrahigh-energy cosmic raysas they enter the atmosphere at night. The scientists reasoned that its wide range of view and powerful optics could also help it detect high-speed debris near the International Space Station.
Once EUSO detects incoming space junk, the researchers suggest, a Coherent Amplification Network (CAN) laser can then blast the debris. The CAN laser consists of many small lasers working together to generate a single powerful beam. This device is currently under development to drive particles at high speeds in atom smashers.
The scientists would use the laser to vaporize a thin film of matter off the surface of debris. The resulting high-speed plasma would act like a rocket plume, nudging the junk downward, and away from the space station to eventually burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
A full-scale version of their system would be armed with a 100,000-watt ultraviolet CAN laser that can fire 10,000 pulses per second, each lasting one-tenth of one-billionth of a second. The researchers say this system could blast debris from a range of about 60 miles (100 kilometers), and the laser would need about 17 lbs. (8 kilograms) of lithium-ion batteries. [Worst Space Debris Events of All Time]
The scientists plan to deploy a small proof-of-concept version of their system at the International Space Station. This would consist of a miniature version of EUSO and a prototype 10-watt ultraviolet CAN laser firing 100 pulses per second. A RIKEN spokesman noted that the mini-EUSO telescope has been accepted as a project on the International Space Station and could perhaps go up in 2017 or 2018, but the laser system is still a concept that has not been built.
If the proof-of-concept and full-scale versions of this system are successful, the researchers suggest developing a satellite devoted solely to blasting space debris. They suggest the satellite should assume an orbit that takes it over both of Earth’s poles, allowing it to shoot down debris all over the planet, and be armed with a 500,000-watt ultraviolet CAN laser that can fire 50,000 pulses per second. They estimate it could blast one piece of debris every five minutes, or 100,000 pieces of space junk each year.
Most space debris is concentrated at an altitude of nearly 500 miles (800 km). The researchers suggest that a satellite dedicated to blasting debris could start from an orbit of 620 miles (1,000 km) and gradually spiral downward at a rate of 6 miles (10 km) per month. After 50 months, it would have removed most of the most troublesome debris orbiting between 310 and 620 miles (500 and 1,000 km).
“We may finally have a way to stop the headache of rapidly growing space debris that endangers space activities,” Ebisuzaki said in a statement.
“The biggest obstacle is funding,” Ebisuzaki added. “There are some technical challenges, of course, but the main issue is getting funding for development and launch.”
The scientists detailed their findings online March 13 in the journal Acta Astronautica.
Originally published on Space.com.
Space Junk Explained: How Orbital Debris Threatens Future of Spaceflight (Infographic)
Photos: Space Debris Images & Cleanup Concepts
Satellite Quiz: How Well Do You Know What’s Orbiting Earth?
Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.