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5 Bold Proposals For Cleaning Up Space Junk

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Since the Russians put Sputnik in orbit in 1957, a heavy amount of space junk, from old satellites to nuts and bolts, has clogged up the orbit around Earth; as of February 2011, there were 10 million pieces of man-made debris in space, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. This puts us in real danger of something scientists call the Kessler Syndrome: Low Earth orbit becomes so crowded with artifical satellites and other trash that collisions occur, generating more pieces of debris that will in turn cause more collisions, creating a domino effect that could hinder space exploration. 

Larger pieces of space junk can be tracked and sometimes avoided—the International Space Station (ISS) can change orbit to get around debris—but even smaller pieces, which are eventually pulled into Earth's atmosphere and burn up, are dangerous when moving at these speeds in space. According to Popular Mechanics, a paint chip moving at hypervelocity is capable of punching a 0.025 centimeter hole in a U.S. satellite

Scientists are seeing evidence of the Kessler Syndrome—orbital debris is on track to triple by 2030—and are on the hunt for solutions to our space junk problem. Various nations have put forward clean-up plans that range from practical to Star Trek levels of ambition. Here are five ideas.

1. Robots

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the U.S. Defense Department that develops and funds technology used by the military, plans to refurbish and recycle lifeless satellites that are floating around in space—with robots.

DARPA’s Phoenix program hopes to scavenge the space debris by using robots that tag along on commercial satellite launches and attach themselves to defunct satellites. From there, the robots will collect parts, particularly antennas, which can be re-used to craft a communications network for the military at low cost.

Here’s how they’re hoping it will work: Nanosatellites, known as a satlets, will be carried in PODS (Payload Orbital Delivery System) that will piggyback into space on a larger commercial satellite being sent into orbit. Once in space, the PODS would rendezvous with another type of salvaging spacecraft (NASA calls this a “tender”) launched into orbit, that will then navigate it to the dead satellite. The tender and PODS stay together from then on. This is when the robot will go to work, using robotic arms to remove an antenna and installing the satlets into the antenna. This creates the new communications network.

The agency is planning the first Phoenix mission for 2015 and is targeting 140 dead satellites for repurposing.

2. Kamikaze Space Janitors

CleanSpaceOne—a proposed satellite from scientists in Switzerland—will go into space as a single-capture mission, grabbing debris and heading back to Earth’s atmosphere, where both the CleanSpaceOne and its collection will burn up on re-entry. Switzerland will build many of the CleanSpaceOne satellites to send into space one after the other. The first mission is one of nostalgia: The space janitor will retrieve the first satellite Switzerland ever launched, Swisscube.

In a video, the director of the Swiss Space Center, Volker Gass, said the amount of space junk is getting out of hand. “Something has to be done about this problem. Collisions between satellite and debris are bound to happen. There’s going to be an avalanche effect, and more satellites are going to be destroyed,” Gass said.

This big clean-up plan is also set to launch in 2015.

3. Fishing Nets

In 2011, it was reported that The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency teamed up with Nitto Seimo, a manufacturer of fishing nets, to build and deploy a giant net that will sweep up space junk in Earth’s orbit.

It won’t be bringing the mess back to Earth, though. The plan is to stretch the thin metal net into space, collecting waste as it moves along for several weeks. After the journey, an electric charge to the net will draw it back toward Earth, burning up both the net and its contents upon entering the atmosphere. (Details for how the net will be guided to gather trash and avoid things we might actually want in orbit are not available.)

Nitto Seimo has spent six years developing the net, which sounds like something out of science fiction.

4. Galactic Garbage “Trucks”

The European Space Agency has a plan, too. Their initiative just isn’t as far-fetched as the others.

According to the ESA, space junk has increased by 50 percent in the past five years, and they’re afraid of future collisions—those by debris alone and those between debris and a working satellite or active mission. The agency wants to tackle the problem directly by sending out missions dedicated to removing litter.

In 2015, the ESA has plans to launch ATVs (Automated Transfer Vehicles), which are unmanned cargo freighters equipped with optical sensors that could be able to detect orbiting trash, gather it, and return it to Earth.

5. Lasers

NASA just wants to use lasers. But they don’t want to zap the garbage and destroy it—they want to nudge debris out of the way.

The debris in space moves at incredibly fast speeds and is extremely dangerous to shuttles, the space station, and satellites. The agency wants to avoid using a laser that would explode any objects, which would only create a bigger mess of smaller (and therefore harder to track) pieces.

Ideally, the laser—which would cost an relatively inexpensive $1 million—would be mounted on one of Earth’s poles, where the atmosphere is thinner. During a launch or to avoid a collision, NASA would send pulses of photo pressure to gently prod objects out of the way.

So far, NASA has only floated this idea; actually building the laser would require international cooperation.

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11 Camping Essentials to Get You Through the Summer
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If you're hitting the trails this summer, you'll want to make sure you've got everything you need to make your trip to the great outdoors the best it can be. Before you lose cell service, grab these 11 camping essentials.

1. ALITE MONARCH CHAIR; $55

Treat your butt to this comfy hammock chair, which is perfect for sitting around the campfire. The patented design only has two legs (you’ll need your own legs to balance it) but that means it can easily perch on uneven terrain where other camping chairs can’t go—not to mention you can use it as a rocking chair. When packed up, it’s just a foot long and weighs just a little over a pound, so it can go anywhere, whether that means the soccer field on Saturday morning or a long backpacking trip.

Get it: Amazon

2. SCRUBBA WASH BAG; $48

Wash your clothes on the go with this little bag, which has a textured washboard lining to give your clothes an actual scrubbing. Throw your clothes in, add water and soap, then slosh the bag around for a few minutes to get a high-quality wash for your sweaty, dirt-laden outdoor gear. Then empty out the soapy water, rinse, and hang your newly cleaned clothes to dry. Scrubba also makes a bag designed just for delicates, a travel clothesline, a camping towel to dry your clothes, and even a set of inflatable hangers.

Get it: Amazon

3. PACKTOWL; $10 - $50

This travel-ready towel dries 30 percent faster than the traditional cotton version, and despite its thin form, it can absorb up to five times its weight in water. It comes in multiple different styles, sizes, and colors from lightweight hand towels to deluxe beach blankets, the largest of which folds down to be about the size of a kid's lunchbox. The company touts its PackTowl Luxe as “the most luxurious fast-drying towel available”—and having used it as a very comfy desk blanket to ward off frigid office temperatures, we’d have to agree.

Get it: PackTowl

4. OTTERBOX VENTURE COOLER; $250 - $400

Otterbox’s Venture Coolers are just as indestructible as the company’s famous phone cases. They’re waterproof, drop-tested from every angle, and can be made certifiably bear-proof with a $30 lock set. You can add slide-on cupholders, a bottle opener, a cutting board, and other accessories as needed; you can even organize the interior into compartments to keep your fruit from getting squished by your soda, your bread from getting wet from your icy beer, etc. And the 2-inch foam insulation is designed to keep your ice solid for a full 14 days.

Get it: Otterbox

5. KICKER BLUETOOTH SPEAKER; $150

Kicker’s heavy-duty outdoor speaker is water-resistant, durable, and fits in a cupholder. But don’t let the small size fool you: It’s also capable of churning out “muscular bass” beats. It’s got 10 hours of playback, plus a built-in USB port that you can use to charge your phone.

Get it: Amazon

6. SEA TO SUMMIT X-SERIES COOKWARE; $105

When you’re carrying everything you need to survive for days, weight matters. So does size. These aluminum-base, silicone-walled dishes and pot are a little pricey, but they take up barely any room and weigh less than 1.5 pounds. The two-person cook set comes with a pot (and a lid with a built-in strainer), two bowls, and two mugs. They collapse almost flat and fit together like nesting dolls, saving you space in your pack or in your car. Note: You’ll need a camping stove, because an open fire will burn the silicone sides of the pot.

Get it: Amazon

7. KELTY SINE 35 SLEEPING BAG; $240 - $260

Even if it’s summer, you probably still need to prep for cold nights. This sleeping bag has easily customizable ventilation so you can adjust it for whatever the weather. Outside magazine calls the Kelty Sine 35 “a smart choice for almost everything.” The diagonal zips make it easy to get in and out of, and if you’re a feet-outside-the-covers person, there’s a vent down at the bottom of the bag for your tootsies.

Get it: Kelty

8. SUMMER MOON 2 TENT; $160

This squat tent is super simple to set up because it only uses two poles. At less than 4 pounds, it’s also the lightest tent on the market for less than $200, according to its manufacturer Sierra Designs. It’s designed to function in three seasons and also comes in a three-person size. It comes equipped with Sierra Designs’s Night Glow, an accessory that turns your headlamp into an overhead light.

Get it: Amazon

9. JETBOIL FLASH PERSONAL COOKING SYSTEM; $80

This handy system lights up with the push of a button and boils two cups of water at a time for coffee, instant oatmeal, dehydrated meals, and more. It’s essentially a combo stove/Thermos, which you can use both for cooking and as a drinking vessel. The Neoprene sleeve protects your hands while it’s hot—with a color-changing indicator to warn you when it is—and it comes with a lid you can use to drink straight out of the cup once everything is done boiling. When you’re done, the fuel, stove, and accessories all fit back into the cup for safe storage in your bag.

Get it: Amazon

10. RADIANT 300 RECHARGEABLE LANTERN; $39

Your campfire can only be your sole source of light for so long. This ultra-bright rechargeable lantern works for five hours at its brightest setting and 27 hours at its lowest, recharging in three-and-a-half hours. It’s water- and impact-resistant, so there’s no need to treat it with kid gloves. Just clip the carabiner handle to your pack and go. It can also be used as a power source for your phone or tablet.

Get it: Amazon

11. VASQUE BREEZE III GTX BOOT; $180

What kind of hiking boot you want will depend a lot on the type of trip you’re taking and the specific contours of your foot, but for all-around outdoor footwear, you could do worse than Vasque’s Breeze boots. The latest version is lighter, with better traction than its predecessors. It’s got great grip on rocky terrain, keeps your feet cool with mesh panels, and features a nice cushion that you’ll appreciate after hours on your feet. It comes in men’s and women’s sizes.

Get it: Amazon

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This $180 Hanger Will Deodorize Your Clothes
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Panasonic

Panasonic is looking to replace your dry cleaner with a high-tech hanger. According to Engadget, the company plans to release a clothes hanger that can deodorize outfits while they hang.

Think of it as part laundry method, part allergy prevention plan. The Nanoi X hanger has eight vents that emit a deodorizing vapor to cut down on both smells and pollen in clothes. Used inside a suit bag, it can effectively neutralize cigarette smoke and other strong odors, according to Panasonic.

The Nanoi X works using Panasonic’s “nanoe” particles, charged water particles designed to improve air quality. Essentially, the technology takes moisture from the air and applies an electric voltage. These particles can suppress viruses and bacteria, the company has found.

A diagram shows where the nanoparticles come out of the hanger.
Panasonic

It seems like a useful gadget for delicate, dry-clean-only clothing—as long as you don’t need to remove any stains or spills (which would require actually cleaning, not just deodorizing). You do, however, have to hang it up near a power outlet, so it might not work in your closet. It takes five hours to work (or seven hours on the heavy-cleaning setting), so it’s not a quick job. If you wake up in the middle of the night and realize you have to wear your smelly blazer before the dry cleaner opens, though, it might be worth it.

It will be released in Japan in September and, according to Kaden Watch, will cost about $180 (¥20,000). Surely Americans hate to do laundry enough to make this profitable in the U.S., too?

[h/t Engadget]

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