Article written by guest writer Kecia Lynn

What's the Latest Development?

At today's session of the 63rd International Astronautical Congress, Astrium UK presented a system that uses a kind of harpooning mechanism to retrieve a piece of space junk -- old materials currently orbiting the Earth -- and a propulsion pack to pull the junk towards the planet, where it will burn up as it falls. It is one of several different systems the company is developing to address the problem of orbital debris.

What's the Big Idea?

In the 50 or so years since the first satellite was launched, a significant amount of junk has accumulated above Earth's atmosphere. Some gains towards cleaning it up had been made but two recent events -- the deliberate destruction of one satellite and the unintentional collision of two others -- undid a lot of that effort by adding many more pieces to Earth's orbit. Countries generally recognize the need for some kind of cleanup to take place, but there must be international agreement as to how it's done, since, according to the UK Space Agency's chief engineer, the proposed system can also be viewed as weapons. "We need to build reassurance within the space community and demonstrate that the systems being proposed are peaceful in their nature but also peaceful in the intent and the way in which they are going to be used."

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com