Tractor beam, the crazy idea of ​​these researchers to clean up space

Tractor beam, the crazy idea of ​​these researchers to clean up space

Some ideas seem destined to stay in the realm of science fiction forever. Others are a little less than that. This may be the case with a tractor beam. The researchers now plan to use this technology developed in Star Trek To clean up our debris space.

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Tractor beams? If you are a fan of science fiction, you must know. Otherwise, you should be aware that, as its name suggests, a tractor beam, on these worlds, consists of a beam, visible or invisible, that is used to manipulate all kinds of objects at a distance. Including spacecraft to bring home, threatening asteroids or… damaged ships.

Scientists have succeeded in moving objects without touching them thanks to ultrasound

This is exactly the use it has, in our world, for Researchers at the University of Colorado (United States) hopes to be able to do so soon. According to NASA, there are currently about 23,000 pieces of space debris the size of a tennis ball lurking around Earth. A number that will increase in the coming years. Especially since each collision – an event that becomes statistically more likely – creates a new pool of debris. Debris that may eventually fall to our Earth. It happened in 2009. Hundreds of kilometers from Siberia, about 2,000 pieces fell from two colliding satellites.

As in Star Trek, but less powerful

To solve the problem, the researchers aspire to send a type of space garbage dump responsible for cleaning up into orbit. Machinery that will move debris Thanks to a tractor beam similar to the one you see in Star Trek, but not as powerful.Hanspeter Schaub, an aerospace engineering researcher at the University of Colorado, explains in a communication. All this, while avoiding touching the rubble. Because they are always very dangerous because of their quick and often unexpected movements.says Kaylee Champion, PhD student at Hanspeter Schaub.

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Experiments in the laboratory space

To test their technique, the researchers recreated space in a cylinder placed in their lab. a vacuum chamber they called the “eclipse” Electrostatic charge lab for interactions between plasma and spacecraftUnderstanding the electrostatic charge factor of interactions between plasmas and spacecraft. And that gives us an indication of the principle they hope to rally: electric traction. In other words, the same force that makes our children’s hair stand on end when a balloon is rubbed in it.

The Star Wars tractor beam comes right on

On paper, a space dump truck-type vehicle could send an electron beam at debris located 15 to 25 meters away, thereby inducing a negative charge on the side of said debris and a positive charge on the gear side. Just as opposites attract… Computer simulations and the team’s first experiments suggest that an electrostatic tug could move a multi-ton satellite over 300 kilometers in this way. Even if it takes 2-3 months for that.

If given enough funding, the researchers promise that they will be able to send such junk into space in just 5 or 10 years. With the goal of moving dozens of space debris to each machine. Perhaps the researchers could even adapt their technology to a more sensitive environment. The space shaken by the solar wind between our Earth and the Moon. Thus, in their own way, they participate in the conquest of space …

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