Britain-built satellite on mission to test ways to collect space junk

Christopher Davidson
June 24, 2018

It's one of the largest and most risky pieces of space junk in low Earth orbit.

NanoRacks, the Houston-based company coordinating RemoveDebris' deployment says the RemoveDebris is the largest payload to be deployed from ISS.

RemoveDEBRIS began testing the technology for the destruction of space debris with the help of equipment built by the world's leading producer of satellites, Surrey Satellite Technology Limited. The RemoveDebris mission led by the Surrey Space Center is created to test a range of innovative techniques to solve this ever-growing problem.

Ideally, RemoveDEBRIS will be the first of many satellites with nets and harpoons to collect space junk.

"We expect to start with the experiments at some point in September".

"We will need three to four weeks for each experiment", he said. "That's because we want to capture a high-definition video of each experiment, and to have a nice video, you need to wait for the spacecraft to be in the right position and to have the right illumination".

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European aerospace giant Airbus designed and built three of the four planned experiments aboard the spacecraft.

"We have spent many years developing innovative active debris removal systems to be at the forefront of tackling this growing problem of space debris and to contribute to the UNs' Sustainable Development Goals for our future generations", said Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Airbus Space Systems. The team will also test a vision-based navigation system that uses cameras and Light Detection and Radar (LIDAR) technology to observe CubeSats that will be released from the main spacecraft. More experiments will follow in 2019, with the harpoon test scheduled for February.

Once the experiments are complete, it will unfurl a drag sail to bring itself and the debris out of orbit, where it will burn up as it enters the earth's atmosphere.

"The sail produces a significant amount of drag so that the spacecraft slows down and its orbit decays much faster than it would without the sail", said Aglietti. The spacecraft is expected to de-orbit in about 10 weeks. It includes used rockets, defunct satellites and pieces from collisions over the past 50 years of space exploration. Eastern Time. Using robotic arm, lovingly-named Canadarm2 by its Canadian creators, among other tools at its disposal, the craft is meant to harvest space debris, or space junk, as it's sometimes called. The satellite will release net and harpoon to see if these techniques works properly in the weightless conditions and manage to clear debris in space. For the third, it will attempt to grab a decoy piece of space junk with a harpoon.

Aglietti, however, said he hopes that if the RemoveDebris experiments are successful, other players will take the technologies to the next level.

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