Day 2 ~
Chrystian sat at his control panel and watched as the un-gangly looking contraption floated near his robotic arm. Operating the controls of his lunar low-orbit vehicle he snagged the docking tether and gently brought the vehicle into alignment with his own orbit. He then began the procedure to secure the newly acquired vessel.
Un-gangly was an understatement. Powered by the Earth’s own magnetic field the vehicle looked like an insect infected with some kind of tumor disease. At the end of each of its four “arms” was a bulging metal net. Officially, it was a key component in humanity’s greatest recycling project. The rather small robot used the power of electrodynamics to capture and collect space junk of all sizes and types in its flexible and lightweight nets. The robot Chrystian had just maneuvered onto his docking pad was fully loaded after its orbital pass through Earth’s debris zone.
Docking such a beast was difficult enough. Although there were sensors on board the Sweep that calculated mass and velocity, calculating matching orbits, matching speed and bringing the robot under the control of the piloted shuttle was not an easy job. Even after the robot was docked securely, the engineer had to guide the vessel to the unloading facility. Where, in lunar orbit, the nets were emptied, serviced and reattached. The Engineer would then guide the vehicle back into launching orbit where the Sweep would leave for another trip through the junk fields in near-Earth space.
Chrystian had been ferrying Sweeps for several months and was reaching the end of his tour. The money was good, but sometimes he felt like a glorified garbage man. As the engineer, his skills were required to sort through the debris collected. Not all of it could be used in the 3-D manufacturing bots working on the interplanetary ship. Disposal of waste could be an issue, especially if anything nuclear was involved. Still, all in all, Chrystian was ready for a break. He approached the recycling facility and began the procedure to lock into the unloading bay.
As he began to unfurl his own docking tether, he realized it was not operating. Somehow one of the nets from the Sweep had become entangled in the gear. Uncertain of the cause, Chrystian had no choice but to brake his vessel and wait for station bots to arrive for assistance. He had not received the required clearance to proceed so he radioed for assistance. There seemed to be a slight problem. Chrystian had nothing but static.
This piece is not entirely fiction. There are several ideas for capturing debris floating through space and causing an increasing hazard. Most of them, however, operate by dragging debris into the gravity field of the earth so the garbage, and sometimes the collection vehicle, fall through the atmosphere and burn up. I think we would be much wiser if we learned to recycle the debris and use it to build an interplanetary ship. Less mass to lift into orbit, better for the Earth, and a host of spin off technologies.