Cleaning up space waste in Almere

TEXT: MICHIEL STOL | PHOTOS © STUDIO ROOSEGAARDE AND MAARTEN FEENSTRAA

You might not see it with the naked eye, but the orbital space around Earth is littered with debris and junk. To highlight the problem, and to showcase innovative ways of coping with space waste, Dutch artist and innovator Daan Roosegaarde launches his latest project Space Waste Lab in Almere.

“Ever since we first reached space, rockets and broken satellites have left debris behind there. Right now, there are more than 29,000 objects larger than ten centimetres floating around the Earth,” explains Roosegaarde. “It is bizarre to realise that we are not just polluting Earth, but now space as well.” This waste can damage satellites that are currently in orbit. “And nobody really knows how to fix it.” With his Studio Roosegaarde, he wants to make a start on tackling the problem.

Art and Technology

Studio Roosegaarde is a social design lab led by Daan Roosegaarde. Together with his team of designers and engineers, Roosegaarde creates landscapes of the future for a better world. “Our modern cities are no longer liveable. Pollution is threatening our daily lives and our planet.” Using art and innovative techniques, Roosegaarde wants to stop this pollution.

One of the international projects they worked on, was designing and creating so called ‘Smog Free Towers’; the world’s first smog vacuum cleaners, which use positive ionisation technology to make clean air in public spaces smog free. The compressed smog particles collected by the towers are used to make ‘Smog Free Rings’, and are already worn by people all over the world. “Showing people what you can make of it, really makes them see the importance of it.”

A laboratory and art installation

About a year and a half ago, Roosegaarde came up with the idea for Space Waste Lab when he was at the office. “The team and I were thinking about how we could apply the designs and the techniques we used in another project to clean our skies and air, when I saw this globe with all these blacks dots on it. From that moment, I was inspired to do something about it.”

The Space Waste Lab is a working laboratory and an art installation that will be located at the Kunstlinie Almere Flevoland (KAF) in Almere. “We open with a large installation of LEDs and real-time tracking information, which premieres on 5 and 6 October after sunset, to visualise space waste at an altitude of 200 to 20,000 kilometres.” The indoor exhibition consists of real pieces of space waste accompanied by an educational programme in which space waste experts and amateurs give new perspectives on the subject.

“Almere and Flevoland are pioneering places, where innovation is at the forefront,” says Roosegaarde. “They understand that smart urban development and creating areas with clean air is extremely important. It was a logical choice for us to do the Space Waste Lab here. “

To emphasise how import smart and green urban development is for Almere, the city will host the 2022 Floriade, an international horticultural exhibition. It will have the theme Growing Green Cities. “Almere also supports our principle of ‘schoonheid’,” Roosegaarde continues. “This Dutch word has two meanings: ‘cleanliness’ as in clean air, clean water, clean energy, and ‘beauty’ as in sublime aesthetics and creativity.” For Studio Roosegaarde, the concept of ‘schoonheid’ is a fundamental condition for smart urban environments.

“Space waste is the smog of our universe, so we should start to pay more attention to it. When we talk about our project, we get a lot of support,” says Roosegaarde. André Kuipers, for instance, the Dutch astronaut who has seen the space debris from up close, is one such supporter. And many people have even suggested ways of creating sustainable products. “I’ve heard ideas about 3D-printing on the moon and creating energy from the debris,” Roosegaarde smiles.

Following the exhibition, the studio will launch a multi-year project where innovators, students and scientists look for ways to capture space waste and upcycle it into sustainable products. Roosegaarde: “It is going to be a journey, but one we really want to start.”

Space Waste Lab can be visited from 5 October until 19 January 2019 at KAF in Almere. Live performances will be held after sunset on 5 and 6 October, 9 and 10 November, 7 and 8 December and 18 and 19 January 2019.

studioroosegaarde.net