Giant balloons could clear out space junk

Helium balloons are known for pulling things up, but they could be a great way to drag defunct satellites down to Earth, a team of engineers says.

Dead satellites pose a hazard to other orbiting spacecraft. In 2009, one of them wandered into the path of a still-functioning satellite, destroying both craft and spawning thousands of pieces of new space junk.

One way to prevent such collisions is to have satellites fire their own engines at the end of their useful lives in order to push themselves into Earth’s atmosphere, where they would be incinerated. But this requires launching them with extra fuel, adding mass that drives up the cost of launch.

Balloons would be a cheaper way to solve the problem, says a team of engineers. Kristin Gates of the Global Aerospace Corporation in Altadena, California, presented the idea on Tuesday at the Astrodynamics Specialist conference in Toronto, Canada.


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