Paris (AFP) August 16, 2000 - NASA is to test a laser "broom" capable of removing debris in the path of the International Space Station (ISS), on a space shuttle mission in 2003, the British magazine New Scientist reports in its Saturday issue.
The broom, dubbed Project Orion, is designed to stop objects between one and 10 centimeters (0.4 to 4 inches) in diameter, which could puncture holes in the hull of the ISS.
If a clean up system is not put in place soon, NASA scientists say there is a one in 10 chance an object will damage the ISS during the next 10 years.
The increased amount of space junk has become a problem for the ISS and for other space missions. The station is equipped to deal with items smaller than one centimeter, while controllers on the ground can spot anything larger than ten centimeters and give the crew advance warning.
But intermediate objects could cause significant damage.
"The result could be much worse, like the difference between a single bullet and a shotgun blast," Jonathan Campbell, a scientist at the Marshall Space Flight Center in the US city of Huntsville, told New Scientist.
He said a clean-up operation would cost 200 million dollars (220 million euros) and take two years.
Campbell said a laser pulse could lock onto a piece of debris, slow it down and then sweep it out of the path of the ISS. Researchers are now experimenting with tracking objects from the ground.
One terrestial obstacle to the project is international treaties barring laser weapons in space.
John Pike at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington told the magazine that although NASA's plans were above reproach "other countries have plenty of reasons to be suspicious."
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