Lasers in space sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie showing a battle between two space-faring races, and so far, fiction is precisely where they belong. But there are plans afoot to place a mechanism on the International Space Station (ISS) that will shoot lasers, not for war, but to blast away space debris that litter the near-Earth space.
The idea itself is not new, but the technology to do it in a compact and safe way is only just being developed. And we still aren’t quite there yet. Which is why an international group of scientists — from France, Italy, Japan and Russia — are coming together to work on it.
Boris Shustov, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and chairman of an expert group on space threats, revealed the international cooperation at a meeting Tuesday. He said the scientists would consider the application of orbital lasers on the ISS, so the space station could avoid collisions with the debris as small as a few centimeters, which are the most numerous of space debris around Earth.
According to Oleg Palashov, who heads RAS’ Institute of Applied Physics and is the contact point for international participants in the laser project, the idea was first put forth in 2015 by Japanese scientists. In the original version of the project draft, the lasers would use 10,000 optical fiber channels and to work at full capacity, would require the entire electrical output of ISS.