Launchspace Technologies, a U.S.-based aerospace and defense company, has a strange new idea for dealing with space debris. This week the company announced that it hopes to build satellites the size of football fields to orbit the Earth and clean up junk floating in space before it has a chance to damage satellites or spacecrafts.

Most space debris solutions focus either on large debris or small debris, but this one is kind of an exception. Launchspace Technologies says its satellite will focus on small debris while also maintaining the capability to track large objects.

“Launchspace Technologies proposes sending Debris Collection Units with replaceable, mesh Debris Impact Pads into orbits shaped and synchronized to clean up debris as it crosses the equator, while steering clear of satellites and debris large enough to track,” says the company in a press release.

Space debris has been on NASA’s radar since the 1970s, when Donald J. Kessler proposed that all the collisions among the space trash floating in Earth’s orbit could create more, smaller pieces of space trash. The larger number of small pieces of debris, in turn, would be more likely to collide. This, Kessler proposed, could cause a cascading effect that would lead to an impassable cloud of tiny debris.

Launchspace Technologies has proposed this football field sized platform that would orbit Earth at the equator and collect debris as it goes. As a bonus, it would be able to detect and avoid satellites.
Launchspace Technologies has proposed this football field sized platform that would orbit Earth at the equator and collect debris as it goes. As a bonus, it would be able to detect and avoid satellites.

With huge numbers of private and governmental satellite constellations going up each year, the threat of Kessler Syndrome looms larger than ever.

story continues below

And while Kessler’s theory has not yet come to pass, space debris and micrometeoroids pose serious risks to spacecrafts and satellites. NASA and other space agencies around the world have developed multiple solutions for this problem, including technologies that help detect space debris and shields to protect against it.

Private companies have come up with more cutting edge solutions, including assisted satellite suicide, massive space lasers, and a big-ass lasso. So far, there’s no catch-all solution to the space debris issue, and as such, no idea is too strange to merit consideration.

And in the realm of space debris clean-up technology, this proposed device is far from the weirdest one.

Launchspace Technologies’ proposed Debris Collection Unit would catch space debris chunks whenever they cross the equator, and its satellite detection software would help keep it from, uh, “cleaning up” any satellites from their orbits. So far it’s just a concept, but the company is working with lobbyists to promote the plan. If it gets built, the company would eventually expand to a whole constellation of serviceable units.

Photos via Launchspace Technologies, a.i. solutions artist's concept