Can Space Lasers End The Biggest Threat To Our Satellites?

Garbage on Earth isn't the only problem.

Disaster strikes in the 2013 sci-fi movie Gravity when the International Space Station is blasted with large chunks of debris, destroying it and leaving Sandra Bullock stranded in space. While there's a lot to talk about in regards to the scientific accuracy of the movie, debris in space is a very real concern.

While we can easily send satellites into space, it is much harder to bring something back if it becomes nonfunctional or destroyed by a meteoroid. The debris, also commonly called "space junk," begins to orbit the Earth and travels around 17,500 miles per hour

Of course, this poses a real concern, because these pieces can (and do) easily take out other satellites, adding to the amount of garbage encircling the planet. Not only that, it poses a risk to spacecraft as well. NASA constantly monitors over 500,000 pieces of space junk and moves satellites (that are able to) out of the way when necessary. Of course, there are many more pieces too small to monitor. 

Instead of having to track these pieces of debris and coordinate evasive maneuvers, it seems like it would be easier to just get rid of it. 

As DNews explains, there have been a number of recommendations to clear the field of debris around the planet. There are a number of factors that need to be balanced in making the right choice, such as cost, efficiency, and ability to avoid messing with things that we do want there. 

The most exciting option, of course, would use a gigantic space laser to vaporize the bits of garbage into nothing. Sure, the thought of using space lasers to annihilate unwanted objects feels a little like something out of a movie, but it's pretty fun to think about, nonetheless.

Alas. The Outer Space Treaty agreed upon in 1966 prohibits weaponizing space, but that doesn't exactly mean that laser beams are completely out of the question.

So what can we do to reign in the problem of the orbiting dumping ground surrounding our planet?

Learn more about space junk and what some of the options for taking care of it are here:

Cover image: Shutterstock