One of the issues that a real Space Elevator is going to have to deal with is Space Debris; garbage / junk / stuff that is in orbit around the earth due to past Space missions. My thinking is that the only real to deal with this is with lasers; just zap anything that gets close enough to endanger the ribbon. And, if it happens to be a still-functioning satellite? Just tell the owners “Oh, sorry about that. To make up for it, we’ll offer you two free launches of your satellites anytime in the future.” It’s hard to imagine that offer being turned down. I know, I know, that’s a bit simplistic – you can’t just unilaterally interrupt services like that – but my point is this – certainly there should be some way to make arrangements with owners of still-serviceable satellites which will make everybody happy…
In a recent article on Space.com, writer Jeanna Bryner addresses the topic of Space Debris and some of the various schemes that have been hatched to handle it.
My favorite is the giant nerf ball. Who cares if it would work or not – the idea is cool. One wonders if Parker Brothers ever considered cleaning up Space Debris as an application for their toy…
At the end of the article, there is a link to another website; the “10 Most Memorable Pieces of Space Debris“.
(Picture from Wikipedia – click on it for a larger version)
It will definitely be a pressing problem. Lasers might be the most efficient solution, in that the objects may be too large to handle, or may break them apart in to smaller sizes, which can be even more deadly.
I realize it’s a bit chicken and egg, since you have to get the device out of Earth’s gravity well possibly before the space elevator goes up, but what might work is a OGC (Orbital Garbage Collector: It has free movement in Earth orbit, locates and pushes debris into Earth collision over open water and periodically refuels itself at a central orbiting station. Several of them would be nice, in fact I could use one right here on my street.
Smaller parts may not be so volatile because they would just burn up In the earths atmosphere.