John Dargin at the First International Orbital Debris conference in Texas

John Dargin is about to undertake a cleanup that is going to be out of this world.

Dargin was granted a U.S. patent for space debris removal in near-Earth orbit and presented a paper at the First International Orbital Debris conference in Texas in December. His patent calls for a dedicated satellite with sensors to intercept debris before an electromagnetic wave would redirect or remove the debris.

“It would definitely mean a safer environment. We have debris traveling in orbit at roughly six times the speed of a rifle bullet, or nine kilometers per second,” he says.

The majority of debris is dangerously located in low-Earth orbit from 160 km to 2,000 km at various altitudes and inclinations. Approximately 22,000 pieces of debris greater than 10 cm in diameter (the size of a softball) are catalogued and tracked.

“Wentworth provided me the foundation with the Aeronautical and Space and Engineering (ASE) courses,” says Dargin, noting that he was always interested in space in some way or another, even envisioning himself as an astronaut at one point. He closely followed NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. Later, after receiving a commission in the Air Force, he worked on a joint Department of Defense/NASA space science mission, which piqued his interest in the near-Earth space environment.

Dargin expects to make great strides 10 years down the line. He also knows that his development will be only one of multiple solutions and will require an international partnership to both remove the existing debris and plan for the future.

“I would expect that all debris, large and small, would be eliminated from the near-Earth orbits. We have been accumulating debris since Sputnik in 1957, and it won’t go away over night or even in 10 years without active measures,” he says.

— John Franklin