Laser broom

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Artistic representation

laser broom is a proposed ground-based laser beam-powered propulsion system whose purpose is to sweep space debris out of the path of other artificial satellites such as the International Space Station. It would heat one side of an object enough to change its orbit and make it hit the atmosphere sooner. Space researchers have proposed that a laser broom may help mitigate Kessler syndrome, a theoretical runaway cascade of collision events between orbiting objects.[1]

Space-based laser broom systems using a laser mounted on a satellite or space station have also been proposed.[2][3][4][5]


Lasers are designed to target debris between one and ten centimeters in diameter. Collisions with such debris are commonly of such high velocity that considerable damage and numerous secondary fragments are the result. The laser broom is intended to be used at high enough power to penetrate through the atmosphere with enough remaining power to ablate material from the target.[6] The ablating material imparts a small thrust that lowers its orbital perigee into the upper atmosphere, thereby increasing drag so that its remaining orbital life is short.[7] The laser would operate in pulsed mode to avoid self-shielding of the target by the ablated plasma. The power levels of lasers in this concept are well below the power levels in concepts for more rapidly effective anti-satellite weapons.

Research into this area demonstrates the precise physics involved, which shows that space debris is re-entered regardless of the direction of laser illumination.[8][9]

Using a laser guide star and adaptive optics, a sufficiently large ground based laser (1 megajoule pulsed HF laser) can deorbit dozens of objects per day at reasonable cost.[1][10]


The Space Shuttle routinely showed evidence of "tiny" impacts upon post-flight inspection.[11]

Orion was a proposed ground-based laser broom project in the 1990s, estimated to cost $500 million.[12][13][14]

A space-based laser also called "Project Orion" was planned to be installed on the International Space Station in 2003.[15][16] In 2015, Japanese researchers proposed adding laser broom capabilities to the Extreme Universe Space Observatory telescope, to be launched to the ISS in 2017.[17][18][19][5]

In 2014, the European CLEANSPACE project published a report studying a global architecture of debris tracking and removal laser stations.[20][21]


  1. ^ a b Dr Claude Phipps (2011). "Removing Orbital Debris with Lasers". Advances in Space Research. 49: 1283–1300. arXiv:1110.3835. Bibcode:2012AdSpR..49.1283P. doi:10.1016/j.asr.2012.02.003.
  2. ^ "Cleaning space debris with a space-based laser system". Chinese Journal of Aeronautics. 27 (4): 805–811. 2014-08-01. doi:10.1016/j.cja.2014.05.002. ISSN 1000-9361.
  3. ^ "Impacts of orbital elements of space-based laser station on small scale space debris removal". Optik. 154: 83–92. 2018-02-01. doi:10.1016/j.ijleo.2017.10.008. ISSN 0030-4026.
  4. ^ Lin; Singer (February 15, 2018). "Is China's space laser for real?". Popular Science. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  5. ^ a b Venton, Danielle (May 12, 2015). "The Mad Plan to Clean Up Space Junk With a Laser Cannon". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  6. ^ Campbell, Jonathan (December 2008). "Using Lasers in Space: Laser Orbital Debris Removal and Asteroid Deflection" (PDF). Occasional Paper of the Center for Strategy and Technology, Air War College, Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. 20. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 June 2019.
  7. ^ Ivan Bekey, "Project Orion: Orbital Debris Removal Using Ground-Based Sensors and Lasers Archived 2021-02-01 at the Wayback Machine.", Second European Conference on Space Debris, 1997, ESA-SP 393, p. 699.
  8. ^ Scharring, Stefan; Wilken, Jascha; Eckel, Hans-Albert (August 2016). "Laser-based removal of irregularly shaped space debris". Optical Engineering. 56 (1): 011007. doi:10.1117/1.OE.56.1.011007. ISSN 0091-3286.
  9. ^ Wills, Stewart (4 August 2016). "Could High-Energy Lasers Sweep Away Space Debris?". Optics & Photonics News. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  10. ^ Adam Mann (2011). "Space Junk Crisis: Time to Bring in the Lasers". Space Junk Crisis: Time to Bring in the Lasers. Wired. Archived from the original on 2016-06-21. Retrieved 2016-06-22.
  11. ^ Weinstock, Maia (5 September 2000). "Orbiting Junk Continues to Threaten International Space Station". Archived from the original on 2000-11-21. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  12. ^ Phipps, C. R.; Albrecht, G.; Friedman, H.; Gavel, D.; George, E. V.; Murray, J.; Ho, C.; Priedhorsky, W.; Michaelis, M. M.; Reilly, J. P. (March 1996). "ORION: Clearing near-Earth space debris using a 20-kW, 530-nm, Earth-based, repetitively pulsed laser". Laser and Particle Beams. 14 (1): 1–44. doi:10.1017/S0263034600009733. ISSN 1469-803X – via Cambridge University Press.
  13. ^ Ivan Bekey (May 1997). "Orion's Laser: Hunting Space Debris". Aerospace America. AIAA. Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2011-05-08.
  14. ^ "Satellite Smashers". Air & Space Magazine. March 1, 2008. Archived from the original on July 29, 2012. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  15. ^ AFP (August 16, 2000). "NASA Hopes Laser Broom Will Help Clean Up Space Debris". Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  16. ^ "'Laser broom' will sweep up space junk". CBC News. Aug 18, 2000. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  17. ^ "A blueprint for clearing the skies of space debris". RIKEN. April 21, 2015. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  18. ^ "Demonstration designs for the remediation of space debris from the International Space Station". Acta Astronautica. 112: 102–113. 2015-07-01. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2015.03.004. ISSN 0094-5765 – via Elsevier Science Direct.
  19. ^ Ackerman, Evan (23 April 2015). "Proposal Would Put Laser Cannon on ISS to Blast Space Junk". IEEE Spectrum. Retrieved 2021-04-10.
  20. ^ Esmiller, Bruno; Jacquelard, Christophe; Eckel, Hans-Albert; Wnuk, Edwin (2014-11-01). "Space debris removal by ground-based lasers: main conclusions of the European project CLEANSPACE". Applied Optics. 53 (31): I45–I54. doi:10.1364/AO.53.000I45. ISSN 2155-3165.
  21. ^ "Small debris removal by laser illumination and complementary technology". CORDIS - EU Research Results.

Further reading[edit]

  • 2000 Earth Orbital Debris - NASA Research on Satellite and Spacecraft Effects by World Spaceflight News, CD-ROM: 862 pages ISBN 1-893472-28-0

External links[edit]