Swiss Scientists Preparing To Launch "Janitor Satellite" To Clean Up Space Debris

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 15 2012 8:31 AM

Swiss Scientists Preparing To Launch "Janitor Satellite" To Clean Up Space Debris

Outer space is the final frontier of garbage collection. Decades of sending objects into orbit around the earth and beyond have litered the immediate vicinity of the planet with discarded objects and collision fragments that pose a threat to further exploration. But now scientists at the Swiss Space Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne think they have the solution, a garbage-collecting satellite:

This is an interesting, depoliticized version of the general issue that environmental degradation is tending to push out of the utopian economics launched by the industrial revolution and back toward something more like the diminishing returns economics of the classical world. If you posit a constant state of space exploration technology, then the growing debris problem would leave us actually moving backward in our ability to do things outside the atmosphere. We need substantial technological and organizational innovation just to stop the side effects of existing technology from strangling us. The larger and more consequential clean energy issue exhibits the same basic dynamic—we need to move forward with out electricity-generating technology just to avoid moving backward.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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