Dutch artist and designer Daan Roosegaarde has a knack for raising environmental awareness through spectacular and symbolic pieces of art, and his freshly launched Space Waste Lab might be his most impressive installation yet. The project uses real-time data and LEDs to call attention to the mounting problem of space debris, but his plans aren't limited to simply shining a light on its existence.
Like his studio's series of Smog Free Towers that suck up urban air pollution, its kites that generate energy as they bobble up and down, and its giant gateway that illuminates using the reflections of passing cars, the Space Waste Lab is a call to action. But instead of shining a light on renewable energy of the problem of city smog, Studio Roosegaarde is calling for a rethink on the problem of space junk.
Roosegaarde has described space debris as the "smog of the universe," and it's a fairly apt description. As we speak, there are around 29,000 chunks of manmade debris 10 cm (4 in) or larger whizzing around the Earth at up to 17,500 mph (28,000 km/h). These consist of things like busted up rocket parts, non-functional spacecraft and fragmented satellites.
And that's just the larger pieces. According to NASA, there are as many as 500,000 pieces of space debris the size of a marble or larger, and millions more that are too small to be tracked. Debris traveling at such speeds poses a real threat to orbiting spacecraft and satellites, further exacerbating the problem.
Studio Roosegaarde has teamed up with the European Space Agency's Clean Space team for Space Waste Lab, which began life as a live outdoor performance piece last week in the Netherlands. Relying on custom-built software and real-time tracking data on space debris, long LEDs were used to form arrows pinpointing individual pieces of junk as they shot across the sky.
An impressive spectacle, to be sure. But that's only step one of the plan. Roosegaarde wants to put some semblance of the technology found in his Smog Free Towers to work in space. They collect smog by releasing positively charged ions into the air, which cling to fine pollution particles and are then sucked back into the tower and snaffled by a negatively charged surface. This captured smog is then compressed into cubes for jewelry.
How exactly he plans to do adapt this technology to the task of cleaning up space debris isn't entirely clear, but then again, nor are numerous other plans floated to tackle the problem.
"That's going to be five to 10 years away, and a lot of prototypes," he told us earlier in the year. "That's going to be a lot of work still."
You can check out a video from the Space Waste Lab's opening weekend below, while performances will continue monthly at the Kunstlinie arts center in Almere, Amsterdam through to January 2019.
Source: Studio Roosegaarde
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