As more companies send spacecraft into orbit, the number of dead satellites, abandoned rocket components, and other debris is rising, posing a collision risk that can be difficult to handle. With its 1,657 Starlink satellites, SpaceX, for example, has taken over the lower Earth orbit, and that number — and the risk of space-traffic collision — is only expected to grow.
It sounds like a solution you would hear in sci-fi movies, but collecting junk while traversing through space could actually reduce the risk of collisions, and SpaceX's upcoming Starship craft could be able to do just that, according to a recent tweet by CEO Elon Musk.
On Saturday, Musk responded to a Twitter user who inquired whether SpaceX had any ideas for removing space junk, saying, "We can fly Starship around space & chomp up debris with the moving fairing door."
Yes, we can fly Starship around space & chomp up debris with the moving fairing door— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 3, 2021
According to SpaceX's users' guide for Starship's rocket system, the fairing door can open when the aircraft reaches a certain orbit, deploy spacecraft, then close before returning to Earth.
This is not the first time Starship's collecting junk abilities has been mentioned. Back in October, Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president, stated that Starship could assist in collecting debris from Earth's orbit and storing it in its cargo bay until it returns to Earth. "It's not going to be easy, but I do believe Starship offers the possibility of going and doing that," Shotwell said in an interview with Time Magazine.
Starship, a two-part mega-rocket system, is central to many of SpaceX’s ambitions, and is currently under development, with the latest prototype of its 16-story spaceship, SN15, successfully launched and landed in May. SpaceX hopes to eventually use it to transports humans to the Moon and beyond, and is now working on the 23-story booster that will launch the rocket system into orbit.