Russian startup to build satellites to capture space junk posing threat to satellites and spacecraft

The Earth's orbit has over 5,000 satellites, of which only about 2,600 are working


                            Russian startup to build satellites to capture space junk posing threat to satellites and spacecraft
(Getty Images)

The risk from space junk — remnants of worn-out satellites — is growing with each passing day. The human-made debris could clash with and destroy spacecraft and working satellites. The only solution, so far, is tracking these objects, but they are not foolproof.

Now, a Russian startup has come up with a possible solution: using satellites that weave webs around space junk and then pushes them back to the Earth. Once it enters, debris blows up in the atmosphere before landing.

The company behind the idea is StartRocket and will use using a sticky polymer foam to capture debris. “If we’re talking about garbage here on Earth, we have to talk about garbage in orbit — Earth’s orbit is part of our planet,” Vlad Sitnikov, the founder of StartRocket, told Forbes.

Since the advent of space explorations, the amount of space junk orbiting the Earth is rising. Space traffic will get heavy in the coming years, which could compound the risk of dangerous crashes. Space X has sent 60 internet-beaming satellites to the orbit. The company hopes to launch 12,000 more. Some of these satellites might stop working, adding to the growing junk.

This is where StartRocket comes into the picture. It will clean up space pollution, removing debris or non-functional satellites out of the way. Other experts have said the idea is promising but needs testing. “The main disadvantage is that it is still in an initial research stage. We need more data to see how viable it is—an in-space experiment would be useful.”John L. Crassidis, a professor in the Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University at Buffalo, and an expert not involved in RocketStart’s project, told Forbes.

 NASA handout image shows a graphical representation of space debris in low Earth orbit. (Getty Images)

The junk-hunting satellite weighs 5 kgs. It could cost the company $88,500 to build it and another $100,000 to launch into orbit. The company is dependent on crowdfunding to cover the costs. Recently Kaspersky, a cybersecurity company, said it was supporting the initiative. “As a forward-thinking company, with one eye always on the future of technology, Kaspersky has long been interested in space exploration. We understand that while exploring the universe is exciting, it can come at a cost. That is why we are keen to raise awareness around space pollution and understand how it can be conquered,” said Andrew Winton, Vice President, Marketing, at Kaspersky.

The Earth's orbit has over 5,000 satellites, of which only about 2,600 are working. Among them, most are from the US, followed by China and Russia. Reports suggest that the US has not done much about the threat. "We're not stepping up to the plate, and we're going to lose or continue to cede ground when it comes to the leadership of this," James Cooper, an engineer working on space tracking at the aerospace software company AGI, told Axios.

Earlier, StartRocket announced a controversial plan of using their satellites for space advertising. The idea was to allow corporates to promote their products by displaying their logos in the night sky. The company decided to put it on hold following unfavorable responses.

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