spaceSpace and Physics

Artist Creates Stunning Laser Show That Tracks Space Junk Moving Through The Sky


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer


Daan Roosegaarde

An artist has created a pretty amazing space project that highlights how much junk is orbiting Earth.

On October 5, Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde unveiled his latest project in Almere, the Netherlands, called Space Waste Lab, which involves shooting giant lasers into the sky. These point to pieces of space junk that are orbiting Earth, using real tracking data from the European Space Agency (ESA).


"We need to look at space in a better way,” Roosegaarde said in a statement. “What is space waste, how can we fix it, and what is its potential? Space waste is the smog of our universe."

It’s estimated that are 29,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 centimeters (4 inches) orbiting Earth – bits of rockets, missiles and other human waste – and millions of small pieces. If left unmanaged, this has the potential to cause problems for satellites in orbit.

Roosegaarde’s project is designed to highlight this issue. Running on select days until January 2019 (November 9 and 10, December 7 and 8, and January 18 and 19), the free event uses long LEDs to create arrows that track pieces of junk through the sky.

Working with ESA’s Clean Space team, the lasers pick out pieces of space junk at altitudes of between 200 to 20,000 kilometers (125 to 12,500 miles). It’s a pretty innovative way to highlight the space junk problem for sure, and one that visually looks rather neat as well.


It’s not just a laser show though. Roosegaarde wants people to use the installation as a springboard to working out how to tackle the issue of space junk in the coming years.

"For me space waste is such an obscene beauty – it's incredibly intriguing but it's also incredibly sad," he told Dezeen. "We are not satisfied with just polluting Earth, so we keep on going outside our Earth's atmosphere into space."

That’s not to say space junk isn’t already being discussed. Many proposals have been put forward over the years to deal with the issue, including using more powerful lasers to shoot debris out of the sky.

Last month, a UK-led mission called RemoveDEBRIS successfully tested an anti-debris net in orbit. They’re also planning to test a harpoon and a large drag sail as other methods to take debris out of orbit.


Roosegaarde’s project is an interesting way to raise the issue with the general public though. In a worst case scenario, space junk could make orbit inaccessible via the Kessler syndrome. This might be one issue we need to tackle sooner rather than later.


spaceSpace and Physics
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  • space debris