The planet is surrounded by oceans of space junk, debris left over from dead satellites and old rocket flights. It's dangerous for space travelers, and will only get worse. Unless NASA or other space agencies can figure out a way to clean it up. Luckily, Vaughan Ling has a plan for the first garbage collector and recycling plant in orbit.

Ling is a concept artist studying transportation design in Detroit, and he writes to io9:

This space debris collector is purely conceptual (Hollywood style) but I did research into the technologies being used or proposed to combat the very real problem of space debris today, including VASIMR plasma rockets, solar sails, deployable balloons, aerogel nets, ground based lasers etc.

My fantasy concept is a system composed of the collector, a net dispenser and a recycling station in low earth orbit. Considering the launch cost can range from $4-5k per pound, not including the precious metals often used for satellite constrution, I thought that recycling could be a viable business one day. The collector would use nuclear power + highly efficient VASIMR rockets for propulsion and a detachable holding bay for dropping off at the station plus an arm similar to Canadarm on the space shuttle and ISS.

Learn more about this project, and see more of Ling's work, in his online gallery.

Here's a video showing how the collector would open up


Plans for the collector taking shape.


View from the command deck of the garbage collector.


Recycling station in low-Earth orbit.


Net dispenser.