NASA Wants to Shoot Lasers at Space Trash

Greg Tito

PR for Dungeons & Dragons
Sep 29, 2005
NASA Wants to Shoot Lasers at Space Trash

If the proposal to help de-orbit space debris goes through, the sky will actually start falling.

The problem with our culture living firmly in the Space Age is our dependence on satellites for everything from communication and content consumption to global positioning. All that awesome functionality is derived from hundreds of man-made satellites in orbit 500 miles above the surface of the planet. Back in 1978, Donald Kessler predicted that, if we're not careful, there would be so many objects in space that collisions might surround the Earth with a belt of junk. The Kessler syndrome is now fast becoming a reality as a collision in 2009 of the Iridium 33 and Cosmos 2251 satellites caused a series of smaller crashes that littered up space. This junk not only threatens consumers but also further exploration and even the International Space Station. All previously proposed solutions to clean up this mess and prevent further accidents are prohibitively expensive - a massive space Roomba perhaps? - but a new study by NASA has an elegant solution: blow it up with lasers.

Or more accurately, shoot a laser from Earth at pieces of junk in space to slow it down enough for it to harmlessly fall out of orbit. The idea of pew pew lasers into space is not entirely new; the Chinese successfully tested a weapon to remove enemy nations' satellites in 2007. But that's the problem, having an expensive laser shoot a powerful enough blast to blow up satellites would not make our allies (or enemies) very comfortable.

The new study [] conducted by James Mason at NASA Ames Research Center in California devised a plan to use a comparatively weak 5 kilowatt laser aimed at junk for a few hours a day. The photons from the laser would slow down the orbit of the trash in space, and further ministrations would eventually degrade the orbit until it fell. The proposed system could help rid the skies of debris by focusing on up to 10 objects each day, and could even be used to help position satellites so they don't have to drag up tanks full of fuel to adjust their trajectories with thrusters.

It sounds like a pretty good idea, especially since Mason and his team estimate that the total cost of the system could be kept under a million dollars. If we could get rid of a potentially disastrous problem by only investing such a small amount of funds, then the fact that we're using lasers to clean up trash is just an awesome side bonus.

Source: Technology Review []



New member
Feb 4, 2010
One step closer to a fully armed and operational deathstars.

I support this endeavor whole-heatedly.


King of Okay
Jun 27, 2008
I could have sworn this was a plan years ago... I remember seeing it on the news, I thought the laser looked like a flipped R2-D2.

Super Six One

New member
Apr 23, 2009
I read somewhere they were going to build a giant spacenet that would gather them up and drag them into the atmosphere to burn them up.

Lazers are much better.


New member
Feb 25, 2008
So, basically Mason wants his own mini-death star.

Hell, he only wants a million dollars, give him double so he can style up the thing and buy some snazzy uniforms. Preferrably grey with black helmets.
sir, target object is within firing range

Excellent, you may fire when ready

Pew Pew!

Aris Khandr

New member
Oct 6, 2010
I wonder how you apply for a job like that. How awesome would it be to have I Shoot The Space Laser on your business cards?


Innocence proves nothing
Sep 26, 2008
Don't fire lasers at space! What if space fires back?

Seriously though this plan has genius written all over it. A space laser? This could be a benchmark for future technology.

As a side effect the USA gets a death laser and I can't see any potential future problems with that...


New member
Jan 22, 2011
Anyone else think this may possibly happen


New member
Feb 17, 2011
This may not be that simple... the source article has been updated with a list of corrections NASA's Public Affairs Office sent to Technology Review. In particular, the idea is to deflect items with lasers so they don't collide, while actually degrading the orbit would take a much more powerful laser and potentially decades of exposure. Also, the laser itself would cost under a million, while operational costs (telescopes for tracking, etc) would raise the cost into the tens of millions.

But still.... lasers in space!


Senior Member
Mar 14, 2011
Seems theoretically sound and very practicable. I imagine the technology would only become cheaper as it becomes more developed, and something does need to be done about it; a Kessler syndrome situation would be absolutely horrible for everybody. Still, the effectiveness of the system would be limited, both for some of the reasons the above posters have pointed out, but also because debris in orbit would likely be very difficult to track in any meaningful way. A useful technology anyway.

Of course, when I saw the article, I immediately thought of Planetes [].


New member
Mar 15, 2011
A little behind the times NASA. Lockheed Martin already beat you to the punch years ago.

They had a big laser located near White Sands Missile Range. It was meant to be part of the Star Wars program. You know the program that people said would never work. They decided to test it by using it on an old satellite that was already in a decaying orbit.

They aimed the laser, fired it, and the satellite went pop. In other words, it worked.

How do I know this? Let's just say one of my parents worked for Lockheed at the time and was present for many of the tests, including the shooting down of the satellite.

Of course, that satellite wasn't the only thing the laser destroyed. It also destroyed a few things it wasn't suppose to.

- It destroyed it's own mirrors.
- It destroyed several expensive cameras.
- It also melted a pile of cinder blocks. (No I'm not kidding.)

It may have been troublesome, but still it worked better then most gave it credit for.


Insert one-liner here.
Sep 13, 2010
You dont even need lasers, you could just knock it back into the earths atmoshpere and most of it will burn up on re-entry. Aim it at a nice big nothing like Siberia or the Nevada desert and anything left can be salvaged.

Smooth Operator

New member
Oct 5, 2010
Even after two lost deathstarts they learned nothing... there will always be some rebel scum turning up to blow it to bits, just stop this before it goes wrong.