New broom to sweep up in space

Nasa are set to begin trials of a laser ‘broom’ that has been designed to sweep space debris away from the path of the International Space Station.

The ‘broom’ has been developed to cope with the millions of particles of space junk that could potentially strike and damage the station.

Most of the debris – the result of decades of satellite launches – is relatively harmless. Larger pieces, however, could potentially puncture a hole in the station within a few years.

Medium sized pieces of space junk, which are big enough to cause a serious breach but too small too monitor easily, will be the target of the laser broom.

Nasa’a new system will be ground based and should be able to locate and destroy or divert the debris.

Trials of the system are due to begin in 2003.

The US Space Shuttle will launch dummy targets and a laser back on earth will try to lock on to them.

Lasers used in the trials will not, however, have sufficient power to affect the debris as it is believed such high powered devices might contravene the international weapons treaty banning laser weapons in space.