Space trash is getting worse and Colorado companies are working on the robot arms and “fences” that could help clean it up |

Space trash is getting worse and Colorado companies are working on the robot arms and “fences” that could help clean it up

The Canadarm2 is currently operating on the International Space Station. It was developed by Canada’s MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, which has since renamed itself Maxar Technologies and moved its headquarters to Westminster. Maxar hopes to develop a robotic arm to assist with space debris cleanup.
Image courtesy of NASA

Space is a mess — and getting messier. Remember the 2013 movie “Gravity”? Sandra Bullock plays an astronaut stranded in space after her ship is hit by flying remnants of a wrecked Russian satellite.

Fictional, yes. But the movie touches on a very realistic possibility. Tons of trash — also known as “orbital debris” — are floating in space, thanks to wrecked satellites, detached rocket engines and spacecraft that has gone incommunicado.

With no cleanup crew, trash adds an extra threat to space missions by NASA and commercial players such as SpaceX. So cleaning up the debris has become a priority, and there are teams from Colorado and beyond working on technology such as a “space harpoon” to move junk out of the way and a “space fence” to identify objects the size of a marble — small fragments that aren’t as innocuous as they seem.

“Traveling at roughly 17,000 miles per hour, a marble can be very harmful to an asset (like a satellite),” said Bruce Schafhauser, the director of Lockheed Martin’s upcoming Space Fence, which can track marble-sized debris moving faster than a speeding bullet. “You’ve seen the movie ‘Gravity,’ right?”

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