According to NASA, there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris in orbit that are being tracked by the space agency. It’s a serious situation. The debris travels at such a high rate of speed that even a small piece of it can do significant damage if it collides with an orbiting satellite or spacecraft. To help mitigate this threat of collision, a team of researchers from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China have come up with a solution for removing space debris. Instead of zapping the material with a laser to reduce its size, as some have proposed, the Chinese scientists want to remove the space junk completely by using it as fuel.
The idea behind the Chinese plan is simple — heat any material to ionize it and then use the ions as a propellant by moving them through an electric field. According to the proposal, the trash-eating spacecraft will capture small debris, sized less than 10 centimeters in diameter, using a net. This material then will be transferred to a ball mill that will use abrasion-resistant balls to grind the space junk into a powder.
The powder will then be fed into a propulsion system that separates the positively charged ions from the negative ones. […]