Clean up space junk with giant golden balloons

There is so much space junk orbiting Earth right now that it poses a danger to spacecraft and space stations - even a tiny piece of debris can shred a hull. But now there's a cheap, simple solution.

According to Fast Company's Kit Eaton:

Dr. Kristen Gates has one idea, and it's beautiful and simple. It's dubbed GOLD—the Gossamer Orbit Lowering Device—and it's just been revealed at the "Artificial and Natural Space Debris" session of the AIAA Astrodynamics Specialists Conference.

GOLD is not much more than a football-field sized balloon (made of gossamer-thin but super-tough material, a little like solar sails) that is flown into orbit deflated in a suitcase-sized box and then fastened to a dead satellite. It's then inflated to maximum size, and the huge bulk of the balloon massively increases the atmospheric drag that satellites experience up there in the void. This drag is due to the rare molecules of gas that hover around above the fringe of the atmosphere, and it's the same drag that resulted in the premature deorbiting of the famous Skylab satellite in the 1970s, when the mechanics of orbital drag weren't as well understood. The drag acts to slow a satellite in its orbital path, and then simple orbital mechanics means the satellite descends into the atmosphere where the denser air heats it to the point it burns up.

Cleaning up our local volume of space with golden balloons? Sign us up.

via Fast Company (thanks, Noah!)