Skip to content
Hard Science

British Satellite, RemoveDEBRIS, to clean up space junk

It deploys nets to capture useless space junk.

Key Takeaways
  • It's a prototype but the test just conducted has proven its viability.
  • It was designed by the University of Surrey Space Centre.
  • The video below demonstrates how it works.
BERLIN, GERMANY – AUGUST 09: A swan is pictured next to waste on August 09, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)
The beginning of a solution to the problem?

With more than 500,000 space debris objects orbiting Earth, and some of them traveling faster than a speeding bullet at 17,500 mph, these projectiles could serious damage to spacecrafts. However, new technology — six years in development — has resulted in a new satellite called RemoveDEBRIS. Its goal? Clean up the celestial junk.

There are two possible ways the craft can accomplish its mission:

1.) A large net that will capture space junk and drag it down to the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up.

2.) A “harpoon,” which will spear potential debris and then reel it in like a fish, then deploy a drag sail to pull the objects down out of orbit.

Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Centre, told the magazine Sky News he was delighted that they had overcome the technical challenges involved.

“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. “To synchronise all this, as you can imagine, is a bit challenging.”

Here’s the thing in action:

The net worked in testing, just as intended. More tests to come.

For the test, which was conducted on September 16, a toaster-sized piece of debris — actually, a CubeSat — was released from the craft. The craft deployed its net as intended, and the net captured the debris. It will drag it down to our atmosphere and then burn up upon re-entry. After the harpoon testing, the drag sail itself will be deployed by RemoveDEBRIS, dragging it down to destruction in our atmosphere.


Related

Up Next