Cleaning up land, sea and outer space – with plastics

Last month, we told you the story of the giant plastic “broom”, out for a test in the Pacific Ocean, on a mission to sweep up some of the trash floating in the water.

And while we wait for those results, it turns out that plastic may also be the key to cleaning up another region – outer space.

Instead of a broom though, our British friends (at the University of Surrey) want to use a net.

No ordinary net, of course.  This net is made of Dyneema® an ultra-lightweight, ultra-strong polyethylene fiber – made from ethylene, a petrochemical.

Did you know?

Petrochemicals are used to make a lot more than just space nets. See more of the remarkable technological advances – in robotics and cars and science education – made possible by petrochemicals here.

If you’re a sailor, that might sound familiar, because Dyneema® is also used to make sailing ropes.  In fact, it’s actually part of that giant plastic broom out in the Pacific too.

And what’s up there in outer space, that we need to “sweep” up?

We can’t see any of it from down here, but up there, NASA is tracking about 20,000 objects (trash) the size of a baseball or bigger.  And the danger of garbage in space – is that at 17,500 miles per hour, even a baseball can do some serious damage to a satellite, a space station, a shuttle.  Just like in the movies (Gravity).

This is how it works:  a satellite or space ship (carrying the net) closes in on some space debris, launches the net (which has little motors), which moves to the trash – then opens, and closes around it.  Which looks like this…

…then that satellite or space ship hauls the closed net off and slings it into the atmosphere, where the whole thing burns up on re-entry.

And that – makes for a much tidier, and safer, outer space.

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