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October 3 2012

Ballistic gas clouds could sweep away space junk

Gassy outbursts from a suborbital rocket may be the cleanest way to get rid of hazardous space debris, suggests a new US patent application filed on 27 September by aerospace giant Boeing of Chicago.

Space junk - derelict rocket bodies, broken or used-up satellites and debris generated by their endless collisions - is becoming the scourge of the space age. Even tiny pieces can zip through metal at hypersonic speed, putting astronauts and spacecraft at risk.

After more than 50 years of space flight, so much litter has accumulated that some experts predict near-Earth space will become difficult to navigate by mid-century unless agencies start removing the mess.

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