The whiz-bang idea of a plasma-powered rocket is undercut somewhat when said rocket is relegated to collecting space garbage, but that is one of the many menial tasks Costa Rican-born physicist Franklin Chang Diaz envisions for his invention. The variable specific impulse magnetoplasmic rocket (VASIMR) is propelled by superheated exhaust gas and can move a craft much faster than current rocket technology at roughly half the cost. Chang Diaz, a former NASA astronaut now serving as president and CEO of the Ad Astra Rocket Company, says VASIMR may one day ferry astronauts to Mars and beyond. But for the time being, the craft could take on humbler jobs, such as keeping space stations aloft, ferrying payloads into orbit and, yes, collecting dead satellites and other potentially dangerous trash orbiting the planet.
“Our goal is to be able to have a garbage truck that will be picking up all of these objects at various orbits, obviously for a price,” Chang Diaz told GlobalPost. The trash could be dumped in an “orbital graveyard,” he added, “or we could actually launch them to the sun and drive them to the sun, which is kind of the ultimate, cosmic dump.”
Which sounds like a great metaphor until you realize that no one really worries about their local landfill going supernova.