A Japanese business called EX-Fusion plans to use a ground-based laser system to destroy space garbage orbiting Earth in a ground-breaking attempt to combat the growing problem of space junk. Due to the possibility of collisions, space junk—which includes abandoned man-made items like outdated satellites and rocket stages—poses a serious threat to both functioning spacecraft and the International Space Station. Small pieces that are only a few millimeters in size have the potential to seriously harm spacecraft and satellites.
While several companies are exploring space debris removal solutions, EX-Fusion’s approach stands out as it aims to utilize ground-based lasers to address the problem. The startup draws on its expertise in laser technology, initially developed for fusion power pursuits. Partnering with EOS Space Systems, an Australian contractor with advanced space debris detection technology, EX-Fusion plans to install a powerful laser system at the EOS Space Observatory near Canberra.
The project’s initial phase involves deploying laser technology to track debris measuring less than 4 inches (10 cm). Subsequently, the team aims to use laser beams fired from the ground to remove the targeted space debris. This innovative method involves firing lasers intermittently in the opposite direction of the debris’s travel, gradually slowing it down. As the debris loses orbiting speed, it should enter Earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up.
Notably, EX-Fusion’s approach utilizes diode-pumped solid-state (DPSS) lasers, which differ from weapon-grade lasers commonly used in military applications. Unlike continuous-firing fiber lasers, DPSS lasers are pulsed to apply force to fast-moving debris, acting as a brake to bring them to a halt.
While facing developmental challenges related to precision and power, EX-Fusion’s ground-based strategy offers advantages in terms of ease of maintenance and improvement. CEO Kazuki Matsuo acknowledges the technical challenges but emphasizes the potential impact, stating, “The power of a laser for destroying space junk is an order of magnitude lower than for nuclear fusion, but they share technical challenges such as controlling them via special mirrors.” If successful, this approach could complement existing efforts by companies like Astroscale in the quest to clean up Earth’s increasingly congested orbital space.