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10-07-12, 04:00 PM
http://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/satellites.jpg Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: Space exhibit, models of early scientific satellites.
Chris Devers (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cdevers/5778600792/sizes/l/)


Space harpoons could be the best way to defend astronauts and cosmic travellers from the clumps of junk hovering in near-Earth orbit.

Space junk is increasingly getting in the way of safe space travel‚??the International Space Station is always having to¬*maneuvre (http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2012-01/13/iss-to-dodge-junk)¬*itself to avoid hitting errant lumps of metal flying around the Earth at hundreds of meters per second, and¬*according (http://www.sen.com/news/esa-plans-to-clear-up-space-junk.html)¬*to the European Space Agency (ESA), there are currently 22,000 objects bigger than a coffee cup currently in orbit despite only 1,100 of those being working satellites.

The¬*BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19803461)¬*reports on a project from space company¬*Astrium UK (http://www.astrium.eads.net/)¬*to tackle this problem using harpoons. These would be fired from dedicated "chaser satellites" that would patrol orbits around the Earth, with handlers on the ground assessing targets over video feeds. When they find a target, the chaser fires and latches onto the rogue satellite‚??then a propulsion unit attached to the cable fires its thruster, dragging the rogue object down towards a fiery disintegration in the atmosphere.

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