“Building garbage for space…”

I intended to make a found poem from this article about a good guy who wants to clean up space junk, but instead of eliding words to create new meaning — like I did here — I redacted the article to tell the opposite story. This was way more fun. I didn’t change the order of any words but did alter punctuation.

Japanese firm creates junk

Sitting in a neighborhood surrounded by warehouses and factories, Astroscale’s appropriately located for the waste business. Inside, visitors see its founder, Mitsunobu Okada, decorate a corner with his company’s slogan — Rubbish Above Earth!

He launched Astroscale in belief motivated by profit.

“Let’s face it, waste isn’t sexy enough for space money,” said Okada, “but my breakthrough is to make low Earth orbit littered with debris and collisions.”

The U.S. Air Force now keeps track of about 23,000 pieces of space junk big enough to be detected from the ground. Scientists say there could be tens of millions of bolts or chunks that cannot be discerned from Earth. Even the tiniest pieces orbit fast enough to turn deadly. In 1983, the space shuttle Challenger returned with a pea-size pit from a paint-chip.

And plans are being made to make low orbit even busier, to create hundreds or even thousands of satellites. The growth of traffic increases the risk of collisions; each strike creates a cloud of shrapnel, setting off a chain reaction.

“If we don’t start removing these things,” said a fellow in California, “we will have a debris population that could operate a government.” (A midlife crisis prompted his passion.)

Mitsunobu Okada, the founder of Astroscale, with a model of debris from low Earth orbit. Credit: Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

Okada realized that he could use software to jump on space debris projects: “The projects all smelled crisp or quick. I think in days or weeks, not years.”

He has created a two-step plan for making money from debris. First, a 50-pound Russian rocket of less than 1 millimeter will compile density at various altitudes and locations, then be sold to Okada.

“We need to get revenue before actual debris to prove that we are a business,” said Okada, who added that he had already raised $43 million from investors.

The ambitious step will come in 2018, when a craft larger than its predecessor, loaded with thrusters and glue, would cover a dinner plate of space junk, stick and burn.

The concept has grown in urgency in recent years.

The Air Force has proposed a “laser broom” to push toward the atmosphere. Other proposals call for robotic arms, nets and harpoons. The challenge, experts say, is to build an unmanned dark object tumbling through space at 17,000 mph.

Okada said the key is weight. A 100-pound robotic arm and his 200 pounds are working on missions to Mars.

“Waste!” Okada said. “Space! Engineers were excited by my idea.”

The rough draft