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A lot of space debris on LEO are small 1 to 2 cm pieces. Removing these threats is a concern to anyone using LEO. Can a cube/micro satellite use collected small debris and propel them to both deorbit the debris and gain orbital velocity itself? A small rail gun perhaps.

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  • $\begingroup$ The collector has to spend propellant to match orbits with the debris to collect it. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Nov 25 '17 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ Teoretically it would probably work with some kind of ion truster that is not picky with which elements it ejects. Practically I have a hard time seeing this in a very long time. $\endgroup$ – lijat Nov 25 '17 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ This isn't a good SE question. Answer like "Yes" and "No" can equally be defended depending on a variety of unconstrained assumptions you're leaving wide open (cost, how soon, dependencies on other technologies, etc.). This means that the answers are more-or-less primarily opinion based. Can you adjust the question and ask something that has a clearer answer that's going to be somewhat factually correct? For example, you can ask what are the most challenging issues or likely show-stoppers. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Nov 26 '17 at 8:59
  • $\begingroup$ Surprisingly little of the LEO space debris is in the 1-2 cm range. Maybe only 0.1% of the damaging flux. (see hdl.handle.net/2060/20150003036). Removing these will make very little difference in the general risk to LEO spacecraft. $\endgroup$ – Tristan Nov 28 '17 at 19:22
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In theory, yes. But in reality, no - not yet, and probably not ever.

If you could build an ideal collector, something to sweep debris into an inlet where it could then be accelerated to raise the satellite's orbit, then this could work. But in reality, to try and catch debris with a different vector to the satellite's (and possibly dramatically different velocity) would require manoeuvres, and these would consume a large amount of propellant, and probably require a very large collector, whether it be a net, a magnetic funnel of some kind...which also requires more impulse to move etc.

There are numerous concepts to try to de-orbit debris, ranging from lasers to magnets to mirrors and various others.

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