In October 2018, Daan Roosegaarde started the Space Waste Lab, a “living lab” that combines art, design and space to upcycle space junk and create immersive experiences. By December 2025, Roosegaarde aims to demonstrate, for instance, how space debris could be used to create artificial shooting stars, and hopefully replace traditional fireworks. Edited excerpts from a video interview:
How big has the space debris problem become and what is the Space Waste Lab currently working on?
We see an increase in satellites and the potential for risk and collisions. We are working with (the Switzerland-based startup) ClearSpace and ESA (European Space Agency) to enable controlled re-entry of space junk at a certain time and moment to create artificial shooting stars. They find it interesting because of the storytelling, to make people aware of space junk. But also, when we will enhance the brightness of the re-entry from a visual perspective, it is easier to make an analysis of the re-entry, which is valid information for future missions. So it’s an experience, it’s storytelling, and it is scientific information that we are gaining. I think we all have a right for clean space but everybody has a role in clean space.
How valuable can space waste be?
We live in a world where waste should not exist. When they started launching satellites in 1957, nobody thought about waste. It was not a part of their thinking. I think that has completely changed. People are aware of it. But it’s still a problem that is growing, which we need to fix somehow. I see it as a resource: to create shooting stars, to use it to 3D-print houses on the moon, to burn it up in a controlled way, to create plasma fuel to recharge satellites that have run out of battery to give them a second life.
We should not see it as waste. The moment we change it from “waste” to “potential” as a resource, it suddenly gets a value.
Could you tell us more about these other concepts?
These came from more than 2,000 workshops that we did with experts from Nasa, ESA, but also with high-school students. Several ideas popped up which we have visualised: There is a solar reflector, to collect space waste and create a shield to reflect the sun to reduce climate change. Some (of these concepts) are future-forward... The 3D printing, plasma fuel transforming and especially the shooting stars are interesting. The shooting star demonstration is slated for December-end 2025.
Can space debris removal measures inspire solutions to resolve issues on Earth?
Yes, of course. It starts with the things we design for the future. That’s what you see today with missiles: When they have served their purpose, how can we reuse them? It starts with thinking of the future and incorporating it in circular design.
At the same time, we have to correct reality and our historical problems. I think it (space debris solutions) can inspire us to look at waste in the ocean and rivers. That kind of design-thinking and technological solutions can indeed apply to Earth as well. A lot of the technologies you and I are using right now—the pens, GPS—come from space.
Also read: The race to clean up outer space