Engineering and the Environment

Zapping space junk. University engineers help create an online game for the Science Museum

15 May 2012


Staff at London’s Science Museum called on the University of Southampton’s Dr Hugh Lewis when they wanted to create an online game to teach children about the potential dangers of space junk.

The Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering is interested in highlighting the risks to vital communication and Earth observation satellites from the tonnes of space junk left in orbit since the beginning of the space age. He has worked with the museum in the development of Futurecade, which includes an online arcade-style game called "Space Junker", where the aim is to remove the junk and protect operational satellites.

"Designing a game is a great way to engage with young children," he explains. "We've been using it as part of our outreach activities in schools and the wider community. It's important to explain the importance of science and engineering to children and we enjoy getting the message out as well."

World leaders are now taking the threat of collisions with space junk seriously but Hugh believes there are still a number of fundamental issues that have to be resolved, "What objects do we have to target and how many do we remove? Who's going to pay? Collisions are still rare. We've only had four known collisions so it's not a catastrophic situation yet but the future is more uncertain."