Scientists are creating a real tractor beam, like the one seen in science fiction films, to address an important problem in space, reports space.com.
Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder, USA, are developing a real tractor beam to remove defunct satellites from orbit and thereby resolve the issue of space debris.
Similar rays can be seen in various science fiction films where one spaceship attracts another. However, scientists say that this process will soon cease to be a fantasy and become a reality.
Scientists predict that the number of satellites in low Earth orbit will sharply increase in the coming years. The number of inoperative satellites, which pose a threat to other devices in orbit due to possible collisions, will also significantly rise.
Consequently, the amount of space debris will increase substantially. Additionally, idle satellites can re-enter the atmosphere and pollute it with metals.
Scientists propose to solve this problem with the help of an electrostatic tractor beam, which will make it possible to move defunct satellites far beyond the boundaries of low-Earth orbit, where they will drift harmlessly in space. The developers believe that this tractor beam can be put into operation within the next decade.
According to scientists, the electrostatic tractor beam will be placed on a special device equipped with an electron gun that will shoot negatively charged electrons at the defunct satellite.
The electrons will give it a negative charge and leave a positive charge on the device that emits the beam. The electrostatic attraction between them will keep them together, despite the fact that they will be separated by the emptiness of space at a distance of 20 to 30 meters. The defunct satellite can then be moved from its orbit further into space without physical contact.
If in science fiction films one ship very quickly attracts another ship to itself with the help of its beam, in reality, such a process will take several weeks. This is because the tractor beam being developed by American scientists will work very slowly. It will not completely solve the problem of space debris but is only the first step toward this goal.
According to scientists, the new device has another drawback related to its cost. Preliminary estimates have shown that such a tractor beam would cost tens of millions of dollars. However, scientists believe that after launching a device with such a beam into space, its operation will be profitable.
Currently, scientists are conducting experiments and working on creating a prototype of a new device. Experts who have familiarized themselves with the new project consider it very feasible.