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British Satellite, RemoveDEBRIS, to clean up space junk

It deploys nets to capture useless 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.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

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  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Map of the World's Countries Rearranged by Population

China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is. 

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What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?

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David Epstein: Thinking tools for 'wicked' problems

Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!

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UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.


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Can a quantum strategy help bring down the house?

Study finds quantum entanglement could, in principle, give a slight advantage in the game of blackjack.

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash
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In some versions of the game blackjack, one way to win against the house is for players at the table to work as a team to keep track of and covertly communicate amongst each other the cards they have been dealt.
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What really happens in your body and brain when you orgasm?

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