So there's an issue of deorbiting stuff because if you just deorbit it a little, it'll enter a more elliptical orbit but still hit you in the back when you return to this place a year later.

  1. Size and issues with space trash. I do not think about satellites right now, more of a "when we start sending things to various places, maybe start to spread out more, we're going to generate lots of trash. That trash might be in a form of satellites, wrecked ships, used up propulsion modules, damaged nuclear reactors etc... now with the last one we can't just burn them up in the atmosphere due to the toxicity and radioactivity of said elements. Once we get to a large enough amounts of trash,
  2. We deorbit the trash into the sun. How? We launch it into an escape velocity from the earths orbit into the suns orbit. Doesnt matter if it's elliptical. But it will come back eventually to the same place unless we use a LOT of fuel which makes it not-really-feasible.
  3. Solution to the problem We build a contraption that is basically a nuke with trash on both sides of it in a mass proportion of 3:1. We explode the nuke **away from the earth, in a solar orbit, not earth orbit) and make the smaller part fall into the sun, and the bigger part escape the solar system. This way we use the trash as a kind of a "projectile thruster".

Earth goes around the sun at 29.78km/s and to escape into deep space we only need 42.1 km/s.

I assume we won't need to slow down to 0 to fall into the sun, but will calculate that way anyway, and that the chunk to be exploded via the nuke is bisected not-neccessarily-in-half.

We could make something escape the solar system by adding 12.3km/s to one part, and slowing the other chunk down by 29.78km/s to zero. that would make the junk chunk bisected in a 3/1 ratio, with a nuke in the middle to impart those forces on the space trash.

Could just do a kind of a directional nuke. Also, any trash that gets scattered and so on we dont care about because it's up-down and sun-ward and space-ward.

Is that something that potentially could be done or am I missing something here?

  • $\begingroup$ Your question changed a lot, but it's much clearer now. That's nice to see. I adapted my answer one final time. $\endgroup$ – TheoreticalMinimum Sep 26 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ Re, "de-orbit the trash into the Sun." Getting to the Sun from Earth actually takes more delta-v than getting to almost any other object in the Solar System. (See also, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta-v_budget#Interplanetary ) $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Sep 26 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ Considering the amount of fantasy around them, it may be worth recalling that, so far, nuclear weapons have only been used to murder civilians by the hundred of thousands. It is not clear if there is any other usage for these things. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peaceful_nuclear_explosion. $\endgroup$ – Stéphane Rollandin Sep 26 at 21:49

Version 1 of this question: Initially OP asked, at least in my understanding, weather nuclear warheads could be used to launch big junks of space debris to equal parts in deep-space and the sun, effectively getting rid off it.

  1. Remarks to the question

    • Indeed nukes could be used to split an object in two, accelerating one part in one direction and the other one in the opposite direction. Keyword: Conservation of Momentum.

    • It would be extremely difficult to make a nuke explode in such a controlled manner, that it can be used as steerable propulsion.

  2. Why exploding nukes in earth orbit is a bad idea

    • Such enormous explosions themselves would cause much more space debris than they would get rid off. The debris couldn't withstand the power of the explosion.

    • Failure at launch would be devastating with nuclear payload. Cleaning up the orbit would require thousands of detonations. Even with a successful launch rate of 99,9% (which we don't have) each launch would be horrifying.

    • Exploding nukes in near earth orbit could potentially act as EMPs.

Version 2 of this question: In a later version of the question OP clarified, saying that the nukes shall not be detonated in earth orbit, but that the trash in earth orbit should be collected, sent to sun orbit along with a warhead and the entire contraption be detonated near the sun.

  1. Technical Difficulties

    • Sending nuclear warheads in space is still extremely risky and therefore not feasible.
    • Sending stuff towards sun is extremely energy costly. How do you launch tons of debris and nukes to the sun from earth orbit?
    • We don't have the technology required to collect the space debris.
  2. Why it's not even worth it

    • If we would posses the technology required to collect the debris we could just recycle it in orbit or slow it down, making it sink towards earth and melt at re-entry.
    • This would be much cheaper and wouldn't require weapons of mass destruction in our orbit. Which by the way is forbidden by The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, Article IV.
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not talking about explosions in earths orbit, but in solar orbit. Gathering up all the space debris over many years using small drones to catch, gather and weld the debris into one mostly-coherent chunk, whle continuously adding to its speed to achieve earth-orbit-escape velocity. Then, it would simply just go around the sun, and get perturbed by earths gravity, to avoid it falling back we'd just nuke it and make sure it doesnt come back. $\endgroup$ – Gensys LTD Sep 26 at 14:17
  • $\begingroup$ Now your question makes sense to me. Well, if we had the technological capability to build such drones, than these drones could just cut the satellites in small bits, slow them down and let them burn in earths atmosphere. You say some debris would be toxic if burned that way. But that's only a very small chunk of the overall debris and should better be recycled in earth orbit by designated drones. $\endgroup$ – TheoreticalMinimum Sep 26 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ But this is my opinion and I'm most certainly not an expert in this field. But launching nuclear weapons in space seems like a very bad idea. It reminds me of the plan to launch nuclear fission products into the sun. Seems like an easy way to get rid of something at first, but really isn't. $\endgroup$ – TheoreticalMinimum Sep 26 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I guess that makes sense. Which means: technically doable, but practically not feasible. $\endgroup$ – Gensys LTD Sep 26 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ Also look up "orion drive nuclear propulsion" $\endgroup$ – Prof. Legolasov Sep 26 at 20:03

This is the answer to an older version of the problem which has now changed. Answer is yet to be modified.

Exploding a defunct satellite with a nuke will most likely obliterate the satellite and cause it to spread into a million different pieces. As small pieces of junk are harder to get rid of, they would just worsen the problem. Also due to conservation of momentum, half of the pieces would fall back to earth but the other half may go on to disrupt other functional satellites. Lets not forget that just because they are small doesnt mean they are less dangerous as they will be travelling at speeds well above 30km/s or mach 87!

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for giving the mach number. I think it helps some people by driving the point home of how fast things in space actually move. $\endgroup$ – jmh Sep 25 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you assume that speed of sound in space is 345 m/s? This looks closer to that at the sea level. $\endgroup$ – Ruslan Sep 26 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Ruslan I just wanted to give an idea of how fast 30km/s is as people find it hard to visualise big numbers. I put it in a form one can relate to. $\endgroup$ – Sam Sep 26 at 11:35

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