Teide is the location for a space-age solution to space junk as the European Space Agency is preparing to test a laser to be fired at space debris from old rockets and satellites left in the Earth’s orbit. The debris is considered capable of causing immense damage to satellites in current use as well as to the International Space Station, and ESA says the problem is increasing with collisions becoming impossible to prevent or even to attempt to control. The laser is housed in the Observatory at Izaña in a building set up a couple of decades ago specifically to research space laser communication, and now ESA is preparing to turn its attention to a laser telescope to track space junk, with plans to use it to fire at the debris considered most likely to cause problems, causing it to start to descend through the atmosphere where it will burn up and disintegrate.
Rafael Rebolo, director of the Canarian Astrophysics Institute which incorporates the ESA facility within the Observatory, said that the new telescope is a prototype experiment to “test that the laser can achieve linear communication with a relatively small piece of rubbish, less than 10cm, and get it to move and be pulverized in the atmosphere”. Rebolo said that he hopes the facility will be operational within four years, and serve as a basis for other lasers to be used consistently to clear the areas most populated by space junk.