Proceedings PaperSpace debris removal using high-power ground-based laser
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The feasibility and practicality of using a ground-based laser (GBL) to remove artificial space debris is examined. Physical constraints indicate that a reactor-pumped laser (RPL) may be best suited for this mission, because of its capabilities for multimegawatt output, long run- times, and near-diffraction-limited initial beams. Simulations of a laser-powered debris removal system indicate that a 5-MW RPL with a 10-meter-diameter beam director and adaptive optics capabilities can deorbit 1-kg debris from space station altitudes. Larger debris can be deorbited or transferred to safer orbits after multiple laser engagements. A ground- based laser system may be the only realistic way to access and remove some 10,000 separate objects, having velocities in the neighborhood of 7 km/sec, and being spatially distributed over some 1010 km3 of space.