21 July 2019
The proposal to use laser to eradicate space debris has raised suspicions that it could also have a military purpose. Photo: Xinhua
The proposal to use laser to eradicate space debris has raised suspicions that it could also have a military purpose. Photo: Xinhua

China’s laser solution to destroy space junk sparks suspicions

Aerospace technology has become an integral part of global telecommunications, and many companies and countries are competing for a slice of the market.

The downside of this development is the growing amount of litter circling our planet. According to one informed estimate, there are about 500,000 pieces of old satellites and rocket debris in the Earth’s orbit.

Although the space debris may be as small as a few centimeters, they return to the planet at a speed faster than that of a bullet, or around 28,000 kilometers per hour.

Researchers from China have recently put forth the idea of using laser to remove space junk.

They proposed building an orbital station that could emit laser to break up the debris into tiny pieces, thereby eliminating them from the Earth’s atmosphere.

The laser solution was proposed in a paper authored by researchers of the Air Force Engineering University in Xi’an, the capital of northwestern China’s Shaanxi Province, and published in the journal Opik, Futurism reports.

The Chinese researchers proposed equipping a satellite with a laser-emitting apparatus to effectively eradicate the man-made space debris.

According to computer simulations, an orbital laser could destroy space litter four inches long with 20 bursts of laser per second for two minutes.

When the pieces of junk return to the atmosphere, they will produce friction with the air, heating them up to a temperature as high as 1,650 degrees Celsius.

As a result, the debris will decompose, melt and evaporate. The junk will amount to almost nothing before it reaches the ground, thus avoiding any collision with any object on Earth.

The laser solution is also cost-effective, and quick. The accuracy of using laser to hit the target debris is also high.

In fact, the solution has been a focus of research and development by the US military.

But though the proposal looks feasible, it has raised suspicions as to the real motives behind the bid to clean up space debris. There are fears that such a program could be used as a weapon in case of war, Daily Star reported.

In March last year, US Air Force General John Hyten told CNN in an interview that China could use space weapons to tip the balance of global power in its favor.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 18

Translation by Jonathan Chong

[Chinese version 中文版]

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