Excursions by Amit Gawande

Here Come the Space Tugs, Ready to Tidy Up Earth's Orbits

SpaceX is teaming up with the maker of a space tugboat, which would nudge satellites around, clean up space junk, and do other orbital housekeeping.

Our recent innovations in Space visits always fascinate me. There are so many players trying to solve each unique problem with the space trips. I find the concept of rideshare” in space really intriguing.

That question is still open, in part because space tugs still have to prove themselves and live up to their promise of reusability. The current state of the space tug is, you pay for the entire Uber car, you drive it to one spot, and then you throw it away,” says Roberts.

It’s of great importance to make sure we are not junking up the space. And I find it satisfying (to a limit) that there are attempts to clean this junk too.

The various tugs on the drawing boards and in the engineering labs of Earth could—in addition to acting as puddle-jumpers—also cut down on space junk, by tugging satellites out of orbit, and keep useful satellites up longer, by boosting them to higher orbits.

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