Keeping the planet green might be a big thing down here on terra firma, but it doesn't seem to be so much of an issue once you leave the atmosphere. Up there floating about and orbiting the earth is a lot of space junk. Lost satellites and fragments from collisions, spent rocket stages, that helium balloon you let go.
OK maybe not the last one, but there's a lot of debris up there and it can be very dangerous for spacecraft.
Not quite the levels seen in Gravity, but NASA claim there might be around 20,000 pieces of space junk orbiting earth, traveling at speeds of up to 17,500 mph. And that makes for a very expensive accident if any of it comes in contact with all the important satellites that are also orbiting the the planet.
Now NASA are looking at a solution: a tractor beam—albeit a magnetic one rather than, say, a laser beam like we're familiar with from Star Trek. NASA have teamed up with Arx Pax, who unveiled their hoverboard last year.
NASA wants to utilise Arx Pax's Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA™) technology used in the hover engine to collect, link up, and move space junk and satellites.
In a press release from Arx Pax the company says:
The purpose of the collaboration is to use Arx Pax’s MFA to create micro-satellite capture devices that can manipulate and couple satellites from a distance. This can be achieved by using a magnetic tether between the objects.
Arx Pax and NASA will work together to design a device with the ability to attract one object to another from a distance. The device will draw as well as repel satellites at the same time, meaning it will hold a satellite at a distance and won’t allow it to move away or toward the capture device. This will enable the capability to capture and possibly manipulate micro-satellites or other objects without making physical contact with them.
The device Arx Pax and NASA plan to develop will enhance the efficiency and capabilities of micro-satellites. While it will lead to new possibilities in terms of space exploration research, its long-term potential beyond that is far reaching.
That far reaching bit probably refers to something called CubeSats, which are small cubed satellites. Gizmodo reports that initially the focus for the tractor beam will be on linking these up.
Yes, you are probably thinking exactly what we are thinking at this point, with every new fact they release this is beginning to sound more and more like the Borg. Oh dear.
Once linked these 10cm x 10cm devices can help monitor and study earth's climate. And, one day, NASA are hoping to use them to explore distant planets and other worlds. To boldly go where no man has gone before.
Wait. Haven't i heard this somewhere before?