Space Station Or Death Star? ISS Could Get Laser Cannon To Defend Against Space Debris

The international space station may soon be armed with a laser cannon to ward off potentially dangerous space debris, according to researchers whose work seems poised to excite evil geniuses and Sith lords the universe over.

Researchers have suggested that the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO), which is scheduled to be installed in the Japanese module of the space station in 2017, may be able to detect dangerous debris, as Space.com points out. They also assert that a powerful laser could be then be used to neutralize any space junk that orbits too close to the station. For that purpose, scientists point to a Coherent Amplification Network (CAN) Laser, which consists of bundles of optical fibers that together generate a formidable beam. The technology is currently under development and is intended to be used to drive particles in atom smashers.

While comparisons from the world of science fiction are numerous, space debris poses a very real danger to the international space station. Most spacecraft are capable of withstanding the impact of objects up to a centimeter, provided they are equipped with appropriate shielding, yet it is believed that over 700,000 pieces of debris larger than 0.4 inches currently orbit the Earth. To make matters worse, objects must generally be over four inches in size for astronauts to spot.

The space station is, by its very nature, a dangerous place, as the Inquisitr has previously reported, yet it is hoped that instillation of the system can mitigate the role of orbiting debris in endangering astronauts. Though the laser was originally developed for use in particle accelerators, and the EUSO was designed to identify ultraviolet light in connection with cosmic rays, researchers realized that they could be put to a different use in combination, according to Toshikazu Ebisuzaki, astrophysicist and chief scientist at the RIKEN Computational Astrophysics Laboratory, located in Wako, Japan.

“During twilight, thanks to EUSO’s wide field of view and powerful optics, we could adapt it to the new mission of detecting high-velocity debris in orbit near the ISS.”

Scientists will first test the concept with a miniaturized version of the system, consisting of a 20-centimeter telescope, married to a laser which employs just 100 fibers, as the International Business Times reports.

“If that goes well, we plan to install a full-scale version on the ISS, incorporating a three-meter telescope and a laser with 10,000 fibers, giving it the ability to deorbit debris with a range of approximately 100 kilometers (62 miles),” Ebisuzaki said.

If it proves effective at protecting the space station, researchers hope the system can one day be deployed as a laser-equipped satellite that will target debris from a polar orbit.

[Photo by NASA via Getty Images]