Laser broom

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Artistic representation

laser broom is a proposed ground-based laser beam-powered propulsion system that sweeps space debris out of the path of artificial satellites (such as the International Space Station) to prevent collateral damage to space equipment. It heats up one side of the debris to shift its orbit trajectory, altering the path to hit the atmosphere sooner. Space researchers have proposed that a laser broom may help mitigate Kessler syndrome, a runaway cascade of collision events between orbiting objects.[1] Additionally, laser broom systems mounted on satellites or space station have also been proposed.[2][3][4][5]


Lasers brooms are proposed to target space debris between one and ten centimetres (0.4–3.9 in) in diameter. Collisions with these high-velocity debris not only cause considerable damage to the satellites but secondary fragmented debris from the collided satellite parts. A laser broom is intended to be used at a high power to penetrate through the atmosphere and ablate material from the targeted debris.[6] The ablating material imparts a small thrust that lowers its orbital perigee towards the upper atmosphere, thereby increasing drag so that its remaining orbital life is cut short.[7] The laser would operate in a pulsed fashion to avoid the target from self-shielding via its 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 field reveal the precise physical constraints required, noting the significant relevance to the space debris's orientation and resultant trajectory of the ablated object.[8][9] Using a laser guide star and adaptive optics, a sufficiently large ground-based laser (1 megajoule pulsed HF laser) can offset the orbits of dozens of debris daily at a 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 (9): 1283–1300. arXiv:1110.3835. Bibcode:2012AdSpR..49.1283P. doi:10.1016/j.asr.2012.02.003. S2CID 118525979.
  2. ^ Shen, Shuangyan; Jin, Xing; Hao, Chang (1 August 2014). "Cleaning space debris with a space-based laser system". Chinese Journal of Aeronautics. 27 (4): 805–811. doi:10.1016/j.cja.2014.05.002. ISSN 1000-9361.
  3. ^ Wen, Quan; Yang, Liwei; Zhao, Shanghong; Fang, Yingwu; Wang, Yi; Hou, Rui (1 February 2018). "Impacts of orbital elements of space-based laser station on small scale space debris removal". Optik. 154: 83–92. Bibcode:2018Optik.154...83W. doi:10.1016/j.ijleo.2017.10.008. ISSN 0030-4026.
  4. ^ Lin; Singer (15 February 2018). "Is China's space laser for real?". Popular Science. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  5. ^ a b Venton, Danielle (12 May 2015). "The Mad Plan to Clean Up Space Junk With a Laser Cannon". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  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 10 April 2021.
  10. ^ Adam Mann (2011). "Space Junk Crisis: Time to Bring in the Lasers". Wired. Archived from the original on 21 June 2016. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  11. ^ Weinstock, Maia (5 September 2000). "Orbiting Junk Continues to Threaten International Space Station". Archived from the original on 21 November 2000. Retrieved 3 February 2008.
  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. Bibcode:1996LPB....14....1P. doi:10.1017/S0263034600009733. ISSN 1469-803X.
  13. ^ Ivan Bekey (May 1997). "Orion's Laser: Hunting Space Debris". Aerospace America. AIAA. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  14. ^ "Satellite Smashers". Air & Space Magazine. 1 March 2008. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  15. ^ AFP (16 August 2000). "NASA Hopes Laser Broom Will Help Clean Up Space Debris". Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  16. ^ "'Laser broom' will sweep up space junk". CBC News. 18 August 2000. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  17. ^ "A blueprint for clearing the skies of space debris". RIKEN. 21 April 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  18. ^ Ebisuzaki, Toshikazu; Quinn, Mark N.; Wada, Satoshi; Piotrowski, Lech Wiktor; Takizawa, Yoshiyuki; Casolino, Marco; Bertaina, Mario E.; Gorodetzky, Philippe; Parizot, Etienne; Tajima, Toshiki; Soulard, Rémi; Mourou, Gérard (1 July 2015). "Demonstration designs for the remediation of space debris from the International Space Station". Acta Astronautica. 112: 102–113. Bibcode:2015AcAau.112..102E. doi:10.1016/j.actaastro.2015.03.004. hdl:2318/1578984. 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 10 April 2021.
  20. ^ Esmiller, Bruno; Jacquelard, Christophe; Eckel, Hans-Albert; Wnuk, Edwin (1 November 2014). "Space debris removal by ground-based lasers: main conclusions of the European project CLEANSPACE". Applied Optics. 53 (31): I45–I54. Bibcode:2014ApOpt..53I..45E. doi:10.1364/AO.53.000I45. ISSN 2155-3165. PMID 25402937.
  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]