“Near-Earth space has become so contaminated that there is a serious threat that we will not be able to continue to move in space. Since each of the fragments of space debris sweeps through space at thousands of kilometers per hour, it has terrible destructive power,” Shustov explained.
“At such speeds, a grain of sand becomes a bullet. Right now experts are considering a variety of methods to deal with space debris, including the use of nuclear weapons.
"But it is pointless and completely unnecessary. It is akin to shooting sparrows with cannon. Therefore, scientists are actively developing new techniques: from using 'fishing nets' to applying lasers.”
According to Russian scientists, the Earth's orbit may be contaminated by about 750 million artificial objects larger than 1 millimeter in diameter.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the debris collides with other bits of space junk, forming new fragments which in turn collide with each other and multiply. These fractions represent a real threat to the current satellites and the ISS, which has more than once been forced to maneuver to avoid a collision.
“The loss of a satellite is a loss of a lot of money, which forces added costs for the manufacture and the launch of a new satellite. This requires a lot of time. During this time, if it is a commercial satellite there are profit losses. There are a number of engineering solutions such as the physical seizure of objects, their removal from orbit using special tugs, or a system of electromagnetic wires.”
The expert further noted that so far all of these are just projects. How soon these projects will be realized depends on several factors. “The first one is an engineering one: complex systems need to be created. The second factor is security: tidying up the waste one way or another so as to not hurt the working satellites. Finally there is a legal factor as each of the elements of the man-made objects in the cosmos belongs to some country. So, you will need permission to remove it.”
Almost every country has made a contribution to the space debris. Realizing the magnitude of the problem, they have established the International Coordination Committee on Space Debris. Currently, there is a rule under which the spacefaring nations have a limited time to divert spent spacecraft from Earth orbit.
But even this is not an ideal option as the disposed satellite requires large inventories of expensive fuel. In addition, the device just loses control at the end of its life.
Scientists believe that the solution to the problem of cleaning debris from near-Earth space may lie in the development of new energy to explore new properties of materials and laser technology.