Singing astronaut inspects space engineering projects

25 August 2014

Astronaut Chris Hadfield has inspected projects to clean up space junk, and space engineering projects, at the University's advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre at Mount Stromlo.

Commander Hadfield shot to fame when a film clip of him singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity from the International Space Station went viral.

Mount Stromlo is home to a project to track and clean up hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris floating in orbit, which pose significant dangers to space exploration and satellites.

"One of the risks of living on a spaceship is impact with debris. Mitigation is the key," Commander Hadfield said.

"If we can do that with cleverness rather than through brute force and great expense, then that's a terrific way to do it."

Commander Hadfield met astronomers working on the project to make space safer, as well as engineers working on projects such as the development of plasma thruster drives.

The space junk project is a government-funded Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Space Junk ranges from tiny screws and bolts, to larger parts of old rockets, mostly moving in low orbits around the Earth.

“Whenever humans go into space, they leave behind some trash,” said Professor Matthew Colless, Director of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

He said the new CRC would use lasers to find and track the space junk so satellites and space craft could avoid collision. Scientists eventually hope to use lasers to slow the space junk, so it can fall harmlessly out of orbit and burn up on re-entry to the atmosphere.

The CRC partners are the ANU, Mount Stromlo-based EOS Space Systems, Lockheed Martin, the NASA Ames Research Centre, Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, Optus and the RMIT University.