The U.S. says it is capable of producing military space debris like leftover launch vehicle trajectories, but the Netherlands isn’t counting on it.
The Netherlands has built its own space debris shields using palladium, and they could launch in three to five years. German researchers will begin building similar shields. They have talked about it since 2012, when a warning came that the country was running out of the metal.
Thomas Zbynek, director of the Space Office at the Department of Space and Defense Industries in The Hague, told SpaceNews in a recent interview that Dutch scientists have been working on a different, better and cheaper way to stop space debris: using palladium and magnets. The solution is to create the shields when a rocket is in the countdown and stored safely inside a payload bay. The shield is pushed out of the bay after the vehicle has blasted off and separated from the rocket, probably into outer space.
This work is starting to get attention in Germany as well as several other countries.
As SpaceNews put it, the idea is “backed by a paper published in December by the German Aerospace Center and industry experts.” The paper is titled “Optical Peg-Nostrionics for preventing collision and debris buildup.”
The Dutch study warns of a future in which people walk into space junk by mistake, or even by negligence, as with those astronaut missions that carried away “hard drives, cameras, colliding chemical devices, vegetation, glass, cardboard, wheel bearings, lumber, and vehicle parts.”
That could be scary. But at least one space debris researcher is excited about the idea. Simon Law, chairman of the Institute of Strategic, Atomic and Hydro-Meteorology (Masters), National University of Singapore, told SpaceNews in a recent interview that “[he] could not help but be encouraged by the Dutch innovation to rid of debris caused by the destruction of space vehicles.”
Dutch and German researchers are also experimenting with reusable spacecraft — which could allow them to recover the spacecraft from orbit so that it can be repaired or reused for another mission.