Orbital debris, also known as space junk, is a problem that many people in government and the commercial space industry are hoping to solve — clearing the Earth’s orbit of old satellites and other equipment.
So here is Boeing’s idea: Get rid of the rubble with clouds of gas.
In a patent application recently made public, Seattle-area engineer Michael Dunn, who works for Boeing, proposes to target space junk with “transient gaseous clouds” dense enough to drag the orbital debris back into Earth’s atmosphere, allowing it to burn up.
The clouds would be created by a rocket at an altitude of at least 100 kilometers. The gas would quickly dissipate, but would create enough drag on the space junk to pull it into the atmosphere.
While still just a concept, the proposal could be more efficient than other ideas for bringing down space junk, according to New Scientist. Alternative proposals include attaching sails to defunct satellites or deploying robots into space to trawl for junk with nets.