EX-Fusion, a dynamic startup hailing from Osaka, has set its sights on a groundbreaking initiative: the development of a ground-based laser system designed to mitigate the growing menace of space junk. In an era where our planet’s orbit is increasingly cluttered with defunct satellites and discarded rocket stages, this innovative approach, if successful, could emerge as a pivotal solution to cleanse the celestial environs surrounding Earth.
The challenge at hand is space debris, encompassing abandoned human-made objects that loiter within Earth’s orbit, ranging from obsolete satellites to spent rocket components. The peril lies in the collision risks posed to operational spacecraft and the venerable International Space Station, even by minuscule debris measuring just a few millimeters. To combat this rising threat, the necessity to monitor and eliminate smaller space debris intensifies as global space-related activities proliferate.
Enter EX-Fusion, distinguishing itself through a distinctive ground-based strategy, leveraging its arsenal of laser technology originally crafted in the pursuit of fusion power. In a strategic move, EX-Fusion inked a memorandum of understanding with EOS Space Systems, an Australian contractor specializing in space debris detection technology. The ambitious plan involves the installation of a formidable laser system at the EOS Space Observatory near Canberra.
The initial phase of the project focuses on deploying laser technology to track space debris measuring less than 4 inches (10 cm), a task historically challenging when attempted from the Earth’s surface. Moving into the second phase, EX-Fusion and EOS Space plan to employ laser beams to actively dislodge space debris. This involves firing lasers intermittently in the opposite direction of the debris’s trajectory to decelerate it. The diminished orbiting speed theoretically induces the debris to descend into Earth’s atmosphere, where it incinerates.
Crucially, EX-Fusion opts for diode-pumped solid-state (DPSS) lasers in this endeavor, in contrast to the continuous firing heat of fiber lasers often utilized in current laser weapons. This nuanced approach applies pulsed lasers to exert force on fast-moving debris, akin to a brake mechanism. EX-Fusion’s CEO, Kazuki Matsuo, underscores the parallels between the technical challenges in controlling these lasers and those encountered in the realm of nuclear fusion, emphasizing the necessity for precision.
Acknowledging the road ahead, EX-Fusion’s plan encounters developmental hurdles linked to precision and power. Nevertheless, it enjoys the advantage of terrestrial accessibility, enabling easier refinement and maintenance. This technology could potentially complement existing debris removal services offered by companies like Astroscale, illustrating a collaborative effort to safeguard the space environment from the encroaching threat of orbital debris.