Chinese scientists propose to zap space junk with lasers

Space clutter has assumed serious proportions but a group of scientists in China have offered what may be easily be the most exciting solution proposed so far. They plan to blast the junk in earth's orbit with giant lasers, targeting small objects that space agencies are not tracking.

Lockheed Martin which conducted research in the past has determined that the debris floating in earth's orbit posed a serious threat to orbiting satellites that are currently in use.

Researchers at the Air Force Engineering University in China have published a paper titled ''Impacts of orbital elements of space-based laser station on small scale space debris removal,' in which they explore the impact of using a giant laser to blow apart space debris.

''This paper investigated the impacts of orbital elements of space-based laser station on small scale space debris removal by numerical simulation,'' the researchers wrote in their abstract.

''The orbital momentum models of small scale space debris and space-based laser station were established. The velocity variation of the space debris ablating by the space-based laser station was analyzed, and the orbit maneuver of the space debris irradiated by laser station was modeled and studied.

"The variations of orbital parameters of the space debris orbit respectively without and with irradiation of high-power pulsed laser were simulated and analyzed, and the impacts of the inclination and right ascension of ascending node (RAAN) of the space-based laser station on debris removal were analyzed and discussed.''

The researchers have successfully simulated an orbital laser station capable of zapping small debris (under 4 inches long). Targeted junk would be hit with 20 bursts of light per second for 2 minutes, which would either deflect the junk out of harm's way or send it to a fiery end in the atmosphere.

According to the team, it would be logistically feasible to launch such stations however, it is not only a simple matter of building them as numerous questions remain unanswered. Perhaps the most troubling question is, how China could reassure other countries that this is strictly for space junk rather than a weapon?