British Satellite, RemoveDEBRIS, to clean up space junk

It deploys nets to capture useless space junk.

British Satellite, RemoveDEBRIS, to clean up space junk
  • 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.


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.

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
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Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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