Skip to Content

Lockheed Martin wants to be a space janitor

Mission To ISS Continues For NASA's Final Space Shuttle FlightMission To ISS Continues For NASA's Final Space Shuttle Flight
Earth's horizon and the moon seen from the International Space Station.Photograph by NASA — Getty Images

Lockheed Martin has been called many things — an arms supplier, an aeronautics innovator, and a global business leader. Now, though, the firm can add a new line to the company bio: space janitor.

The aerospace company (LMT) is teaming up with Australian technology company Electro Optic Systems PTY Ltd. to track “space junk.” The project will use lasers and optical systems to track and identify man-made debris currently floating through space.

The technology used (lasers and optical systems) will allow researchers to determine what the objects are made of, how fast they are moving and in which direction they are spinning.

Both Lockheed and EOS will be contributing money and technology to the project, while it will be staffed by Australia-based EOS, according to Lockheed spokesman Matt Kramer.

The problem of man-made space debris has become a somewhat serious one in the 57 years since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. According to the website Universe Today, there are more than 21,000 objects bigger than 10 centimeters orbiting the earth, mostly decommissioned satellites or pieces that have broken off those satellites. The International Space Station often has to be moved to avoid material in orbit.

Earlier this year, the Japanese took a step that is almost too simple to be real: they took a huge, magnetic net and tested if they could use it to collect debris and pull it downward into Earth’s atmosphere where it would be burned up. If tests go smoothly, it is hoped the first garbage collection could be in 2019.

If the Lockheed/EOS project does find a piece of debris is looking like it will hit a functioning satellite, Kramer said the next move would be to move the satellite out of the way. The technology will allow the movement to be as precise as possible saving the limited propellant a satellite carries.