Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Collapsible Micrometeorite shields

A self-deploying ring of ceramic fabric
 
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In the Interagency Report on Orbital Debris Published by the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Transportation Research and Development, scientists conclude “there are over 100,000 debris fragments in orbit with sizes down to 1 cm.” Perhaps of even greater interest is the report’s comment on litter in space, which it describes as “millions of objects the size of a B-B gun pellet (which) are believed to orbit the earth, passing one another at speeds that average about 22,000 miles per hour.”

It is not a question of if but when will this debris hit a spacecraft. 3M currently produce a ceramic fabric that is being used to shield the International Space Station. I propose using this same fabric to protect the Space Shuttle and future spacecraft. By creating a multi-layer ring of fabric 140 feet in diameter and 50 feet high. The shield ring design allows it to be lifted into orbit in one trip and left so that future mission can dock with it. The space side of the ring will have cable spokes holding the control hub in the center and a carbon fiber skeleton to hold the rings shape. The other end will be open allowing a craft to be pulled inside the ring dock with the hub. The control hub has a docking arm that allows it to attach to the bottom of the Shuttle. The hub also contains maneuvering engines and low or no friction hub to allow the ring to spin slowly using centripetal force to help keep its shape. The shuttle can be moved up in down in side the ring as needed to allow instruments to see past the ring while still protecting the delicate tiles. The hub could also be equipped with a radar tracking system to catalog the small debris in order to better plan missions.

duroncrush, Jan 05 2004

Nextel™ Ceramic Fabric http://www.3m.com/m...s/CeramicFabric.pdf
Nextel™ Ceramic Fabric Offers Space Age Protection [duroncrush, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Nextel™ Woven Ceramic Fabric http://www.3m.com/m...erials/fabric.jhtml
[duroncrush, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 21 2004]

How about an inflatable station? http://www.bigelowaerospace.com/
I believe they use self sealing fabrics rather than a shield. [MechE, Sep 10 2010]

[link]






       What supports the fabric?
phoenix, Jan 05 2004
  

       I'm not really agreeing that space debris is such a big problem either. What the people in these press releases always forget to mention is that most other objects there are also orbiting at the same speed. If this is not the case then the pieces will simply move up or down in orbit until the speed matches again.   

       Therefore it is NOT the traveling astronaut picture who is waiting to be catched by a bullet !   

       This is more a kind of a highway becoming more and more crowded by smaller and smaller cars. And like on a hightway - as long as you keep the security distance you are not really in danger if you follow the speed limit.   

       Only when you change lanes or enter the highway you are in trouble/danger!   

       Hence such a shield would be an overkill from the highway security perspective :-)   

       And the half-life of space debris is only a few thousand years - simply wait for the next bus if it is too crowded
gutemine, Sep 10 2010
  

       No, [gutemine], it is a problem. The debris isn't in neat parallel/concentric orbits. There are photos of chips in Space Shuttle windsheilds, and holes in retrieved satellites.   

       There is a problem with orbital debris. It isn't overwhelming yet, but it has the potential to get worse in a chain reaction.   

       Besides, the 'Bakery isn't about saying that there is no need for something. Sometimes we do say that, but not often.
baconbrain, Sep 10 2010
  

       You are right on the eliptic orbits (crossing the neat highway all the time) and I'm sorry when I sounded too negative.   

       I didn't actually really say NO not needed, I just wanted to point out that it is not very likely to get hit by the full 22k miles/h (unless you go the wrong way on the highway - then we see 44)   

       The shield in orbit approach is the part which is hard to accept for me.   

       As I pointed out the real danger is when changing lanes - so a safe haven/shiedled dock in orbit is not really solving the problem.   

       It would be like a kid running over the crowded highway on feet to hop on a safe school bus   

       Hopefully this clarifies a little bit what I wanted to add to the baking process.
gutemine, Sep 10 2010
  

       There has been speculation that in a war with North Korea, their first action would be to explode large gravel bombs in orbit, taking out all satellites. One could use a wrap like this for critical military satellites to preserve their function in case of such an attach.
bungston, Sep 10 2010
  

       well, finding a military usage is always a good aproach if you look for funding ;-)   

       But if I remember right US military has up to 1 dozend of emergency SATs stored ready to be launched within a few weeks to be able to recover some basic capabilities pretty fast even if a lot of their birds are taken out.   

       Running a Satellite inside a shield is not really working that good either, because of the relatively weak radio signals they produce and the sunlight that most need to produce their electricity.
gutemine, Sep 10 2010
  
      
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