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Space & Astronomy

Soccer-ball robots to patrol for space junk

September 6, 2014 | Comment icon 2 comments

The devices could prove invaluable by analyzing space junk. Image Credit: NASA
New self-guided robots could soon be used to help assess the threat posed by items of space debris.
Spent rocket stages, defunct satellites and thousands of other fragments of junk represent a constant threat to the crew of the International Space Station with orbital changes required on a regular basis to avoid potentially catastrophic collisions.

Now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with a remarkable new device that is capable of flying out to an item of debris to determine what danger it poses.

Fitted with sophisticated gyroscopes and cameras, the soccer-ball sized drones have so far been used in a series of tests aboard the station to manouver around and analyze an 'unknown' object.
"Inspection is not a low-risk activity," said Alvar Saenz-Otero. "An autonomous inspector could collide with the object and make problems worse. So very good sensors must be used to allow the vehicle to move safely around the object it is inspecting."

Once the robot has carried out its analysis the information would be sent back to the crew who could then make an informed decision on what action to take to avoid a collision.

There are also plans to adapt the robots to set up autonomous repair platforms that can sit in geosynchronous Earth orbit and repair old or broken satellites.

Source: New Scientist | Comments (2)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Sundew 8 years ago
Instead of space soccer balls, we need space billiards, to knock the pieces of debris out of orbit or into deep space. BTW when these things fail we will have more space junk.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 8 years ago
Instead of space soccer balls, we need space billiards, to knock the pieces of debris out of orbit or into deep space. That really is a very bad idea. At orbital speed it wont knock debris out of orbit it will smash both the debris and the "billiard ball" into small pieces and make the situation worse. or into deep space. If the first part was a bad idea then this is a truly awful one. Orbital speed is around 17,000 mph, escape velocity (the speed need to escape from Earth and enter deep space) is around 25,000 mph. You would have to hit your piece of debris with enough force to instantaneousl... [More]

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