A Japanese company has announced plans to declutter space with a satellite armed with a high-powered laser.
Several proposals have been put forward to remedy the problem of an estimated 900,000 shards of debris, measuring slightly less than three inches, orbiting the planet and posing a hazard to satellites and even the International Space Station.
The plan by Sky Perfect JSAT, a satellite communications company, is the first to suggest using a laser to rid the skies of junk, with the Tokyo-based firm confident it will be able to launch its first commercial debris-destroying vehicle in 2026.
Sky Perfect JSAT is working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Nagoya University and Kyushu University to create the satellite, which will be able to target even relatively small pieces of debris. A pulse of energy from the laser will disrupt the orbit of the target and send it spinning into the Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn, the company said.
With the amount of debris circling the planet increasing, the company believes satellite operators would be happy to pay to ensure that the orbit selected for any new multi-million-pound vehicle had been cleared of anything that might cause it damage. A collision with a large object could be catastrophic - Nasa says that there are 2,000 defunct satellites currently orbiting the Earth.
"The problem of space debris is an environmental problem similar to CO2 and marine plastics," the company said in a statement. "Therefore, JSAT will continue to contribute to the maintenance of a sustainable space environment, aiming to solve the problem of space debris through this project."
The company has not specified how much is being invested in the project.
Japan's space sector has previously come up with other plans for dealing with space junk, with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2014 announcing plans for an electrodynamic tether. It involved a mesh of aluminium and steel wires that would trail behind an unmanned spacecraft and use an electromagnetic field to slowly gather pieces of debris.
Once full, the unit and its bag of rubbish would burn up.