A team from the University of Michigan is investigating a new technology where 'pulses' of gas will be fired into the path of debris.
The technology would increase 'drag' on orbiting space junk, leaving it to plunge downwards into Earth's atmosphere.More than 500,000 pieces of 'space junk' orbit the Earth - and Nasa has come up with a radical solution to 'clean' the space near Earth.
An illustration showing how a 'pulse' of gas can knock orbiting space debris back into Earth's atmosphere to burn up
A NASA computer-generated graphic showing the amount of dangerous debris in orbit around the earth. There are belived to be 500,000 man-made items of space junk circling the planet at 5 miles per second
They all travel at speeds up to 17,500 mph, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft.
There's also a danger of 'cascading collisions', where space debris impact with each other, creating more, smaller pieces of space junk.
Debris belts have already made many orbits unusable.
The pulses themselves would leave no trace - and the new method also leaves no solid material in orbit.
Many previous proposed 'solutions' to the problem are open to malfunctions which could create even more debris.
Other plans include a Swiss ‘janitor satellite’ designed to 'clean' the space near Earth of space junk.
The satellite will 'grab' lumps of orbiting debris and throw them back into Earth's atmosphere, where they will burn up on re-entry.
CleanSpace One closes in on a discarded 'Cubesat' satellite in an illustration released this week
CleanSpace will hurl 'used up' satellites back into the atmosphere where they will burn up on reentry
The proposed new system would be known as the Space Debris Elimination (SpaDE) system - and would aim to remove debris from orbit by firing focused pulses of atmospheric gases into the path of targeted debris.
The research will produce an academic paper and presentation describing the technical results and providing the foundation for future work, to include prototyping, field experiments and ultimately deployment of a SpaDE system.