We Could Get Rid of Space Junk By Making It into Orbiting Storage Depots

Space junk is a major problem. Consisting of detritus like old rocket stages and broken up pieces of satellites, these pieces of debris orbit the Earth at terrifying speeds, posing a risk to both satellites and future space missions. According to some estimates, there are around 34,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 centimeters currently floating in space. While there have been numerous ideas put forward for cleaning up this space trash, a new concept may be the most ambitious (and, frankly, kind of bonkers-sounding) yet.

A collaboration between Canadian space launch startup Maritime Launch Services (MLS) and commercial space services company Nanoracks, the idea is to find ways to transform the used upper stages of rockets into “outposts” throughout the solar system, used for things like space storage depots, space hotels, fuel depots, and more. It’s upcycling, basically, but with used rocket parts instead of old wooden boxes and mason jars.

“There’s lots of things that you can be doing with the upper stages and our core belief at Nanoracks is you don’t waste something in space — it’s too precious,” Jeffrey Manber, CEO of Nanoracks, told CBC recently.

As part of the deal, Nanoracks will work to refurbish MLS’s rockets. However, the Cyclone 4M rockets MLS hopes to use are not big enough to be utilized by humans in any meaningful capacity. That means that this plan remains one for the future. Still, they’ve got some big ambitions. According to the report, Nanoracks is considering the use of these space welding robots, including possible snake robots, to help repurpose the materials.

“We’ve got this stuff up there anyway, so why not take it and reuse it and repurpose it for something that has a second benefit, a second bite at the apple, if you will, that does more science,” MLS president and CEO Stephen Matier told CBC.

Of course, it won’t be possible to recycle every piece of space junk in this manner. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing suggestion when it comes to sorting out a very real problem. Whether MLS and Nanoracks can pull it off remains to be seen. One thing’s for sure, though: We’d love to stay in a hipster recycled space rocket hotel if the idea ever takes off. No pun intended.

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