Monday, March 13, 2006

SFChronicle on orbital debris

An article in the San Francisco Chronicle talks about orbital debris, quotes Jordin Kare and Brad Edwards

“It’s very likely — I’d say certain — that we don’t yet understand all the ways a space elevator can fail, so the current designs may well underestimate how much damage a small impact could do,” said Jordin Kare, who has a doctorate in astrophysics from UC Berkeley and is now a private consultant to the aerospace industry in Seattle.

A veteran researcher on the subject, Bradley Edwards, formerly of Los Alamos National Laboratory, disagrees. He is confident that the space elevator can be safely moved out of the way before space debris hits it. Thus “we can eliminate any concern related to space debris.”

Kare counters that such “an active system will always have a chance of failure, whether through mechanical failures, or plain old human error.” He wryly imagines this frantic exchange between the tracking officials and the elevator operator: “Move the ribbon left! No, the other left!”

I was waiting for someone fromt the engineering side at Liftport (The Space Elevator Companies) to respond before I said anything. Tom obliged last night
I have to side with Jordin on this one. I agree that we will need an active debris avoidance system, and it will do a lot of good, but nothing is fool-proof.

No kidding. Murphy was a grunt and then used the GI Bill to attend MIT, I suspect. Things will break and anyone who seriously wants to build anything more complicated than a toaster would do well to keep this in mind.
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