Net Tossed by Satellite Captures Experimental Space Junk

Christopher Davidson
September 24, 2018

Space junk and debris might soon be sucked up by other satellites, thanks to a new experimental cleanup device.

RemoveDEBRIS, built to clean up thousands of potentially unsafe pieces of trash orbiting the Earth, deployed its net as part of a practice experiment in space on Sunday, researchers said.

A group of scientists is trying to do something about all of the space junk floating around our planet.

Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of SSTL and Chairman of the Surrey Space Centre, added "RemoveDEBRIS is an exciting and highly innovative mission that has brought together leading space organisations to tackle the issue of space junk". Space junk builds up whenever an astronaut accidentally loses a tool during a spacewalk or when a satellite drifts out of range and becomes unusable.

And, just like on Earth, we must clean up space, but how? NASA says there are around 100 million pieces of junk orbiting the Earth, and it was caused by humans.

The director of the University of Surrey, Guglielmo Aglietti stated on Thursday that they didn't expect the target to spin that fast, but the test was more realistic.

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"The difficulty that we have is that you want to capture your piece of debris with the net, you want to envelop the piece of debris, then at the same time you want to draw a string so you actually capture the thing so it can't escape", he said.

The net which is nearly five meters across will fall with its target out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere.

RemoveDebris came from almost a decade of development, both in figuring out how to capture the debris, how to destroy it, and ultimately, how to not become a piece of space debris itself.

Ingo Retat of Airbus, which was part of the project, said: "We spent six years testing in parabolic flights, in special drop towers and also thermal vacuum chambers. Our small team of engineers and technicians have done an incredible job moving us one step closer to clearing up low Earth orbit", said Ingo Retat, Airbus RemoveDEBRIS project head.

According to Advocator, the team behind RemoveDEBRIS tested its net a few days ago to see how it works in space. Up next, it will use a camera to track debris. The falcon also carried the satellite RemoveDEBRIS.

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