Space trash crash, today


Shoving the refrigerator overboard in July, 2007

An old fridge thrown off the International Space Station last year is set to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere shortly, according to reports, delivering a volley of 100mph space frag debris to an as-yet unknown impact site…

The disused ammonia-powered stink-tank might more normally have been shipped back to Earth aboard a space shuttle, but in the end no room was found. Astronaut Clay Anderson dealt with the problem briskly in July last year, flinging the hefty three-quarter-ton unit off the end of the space station’s robot arm along with an old camera mounting also deemed no longer necessary.

In the year-plus since, the orbital pong-bomb has gradually slowed down due to the friction exerted by the extreme upper atmosphere, thus descending and becoming subject to more friction and so on. In effect, the EAS has hung above our heads like an evil-smelling Sword of Damocles, which might suddenly plunge down to release its payload of eyewatering space niff at any time. The tipping point at which the slowing and dropping suddenly accelerates and the descent begins in earnest is expected imminently; surviving pieces of the EAS should reach Earth today…

NASA exploding-space-fridge experts have worked out that the largest pieces of tank which could survive might be as big as 15lb and travelling at 100mph. The fridge-frag shower will most likely fall out at sea, but might conceivably hit a populated area if things turn out unfortunately.

“If anybody found a piece of anything on the ground Monday morning, I would hope they wouldn’t get too close to it.”

As many as 15 pieces of the tank may survive reentry, with sizes ranging from an ounce to nearly 40 lbs.. Paranoid geeks or the techno-unlucky are advised to stay indoors or to wear a heavier-than-usual tinfoil helmet.

Enviro refrigerator design from Einstein and Szilard. Wha?

Actually, I’m not that startled about the design. I was a 2nd-generation tech at GE – and my father worked on fridges of this design before and during the transition to freon-based compressor styles.

An early invention by Albert Einstein has been rebuilt by scientists at Oxford University who are trying to develop an environmentally friendly refrigerator that runs without electricity.

Malcolm McCulloch, an electrical engineer at Oxford who works on green technologies, is leading a three-year project to develop more robust appliances that can be used in places without electricity.

His team has completed a prototype of a type of fridge patented in 1930 by Einstein and his colleague, the Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard. It had no moving parts and used only pressurised gases to keep things cold. The design was partly used in the first domestic refrigerators, but the technology was abandoned when more efficient compressors became popular in the 1950s. That meant a switch to using freons.

Pressurised gas fridges based around Einstein’s design were replaced by freon-compressor fridges partly because Einstein and Szilard’s design was not very efficient. But McCulloch thinks that by tweaking the design and replacing the types of gases used it will be possible to quadruple the efficiency. He also wants to take the idea further. The only energy input needed into the fridge is to heat a pump, and McCulloch has been working on powering this with solar energy.

‘No moving parts is a real benefit because it can carry on going without maintenance. This could have real applications in rural areas,’ he said.

Terrific. Sometimes I wonder about how many great ideas are gathering dust because, accidentally or intentionally, the economics of the times didn’t encourage mass production?