Uni Scientists Look Into Space Clean-Up

Scientists are to investigate ways of cleaning up outer space and deflecting asteroids as part of a multimillion-pound research programme.

They will look at ways of removing junk such as fragments of defunct satellites which risk damaging functioning satellites if they collide with them.

Researchers will also investigate how to deflect asteroids which could have ''potentially devastating consequences'' if they crash into earth.

The £3.2 million Stardust project will be led by the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow and involves 14 partners across Europe.

It will be led by Dr Massimilano Vasile of the University of Strathclyde's department of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

''Asteroids and space debris represent a significant hazard for space and terrestrial assets and could have potentially devastating consequences for our planet'' he said.

''The two share a number of commonalities.

"Both are uncontrolled objects whose orbit is deeply affected by a number of gravitational and non-gravitational interactions, both have an irregular shape and an uncertain attitude motion and both are made of inhomogeneous materials that can respond unexpectedly to a deflection action.

''Such a significant multidisciplinary technical challenge, with real societal benefit for the future, represents a compelling topic for a training network.

"I am delighted that we have secured this level of funding and we are looking forward to pushing the boundaries of current technologies and developing the next generation of space experts.''

The scientists will research ideas such as using laser beams to vaporise small fragments of debris, and catching larger pieces with robotic arms, nets or extending tentacles.

Asteroids could be dealt with by attaching an engine to push them away, or finding ways to break them up.

The European Commission-funded network will launch early next year.

Stardust is a research-based training network which will train the next generation of scientists, engineers and policy makers. Its 14 partners include the European Space Agency, national research centres in France and Italy and three companies: Astrium, Deimos and Telespazio.

Seven academic institutions are also involved, including the University of Southampton.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, principal of the University of Strathclyde, said:

''To be selected to lead this international area of space research is an excellent achievement and demonstrates the strength of our research capabilities and our success in working with partners in academia and industry.

''The observation, manipulation and disposal of space debris and asteroids represent one of the most challenging goals for modern space technology.

''Stardust will provide Strathclyde with the opportunity to make the significant advances needed to help protect our planet.''

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