Satellite launched to tackle space junk

Posted on 19 Apr 2018 and read 442 times
Satellite launched to tackle space junkEarlier this month, a prototype space-junk-hunting machine designed to test ways of tackling the problem of space junk was launched aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

A report by the IMechE says the Surrey Space Centre’s (SSC) RemoveDebris satellite — built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (www.sstl.co.uk) and incorporating Airbus technology — will test a net and harpoon for catching fragments of obsolete spacecraft (SSC is part of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Surrey).

The amount of space junk grows every year, with ultra-fast shards of metal posing a huge danger to future launches beyond the Earth’s atmosphere.

The RemoveDebris satellite will deploy from the International Space Station (ISS). It will then attempt to capture ‘simulated’ space debris with its net and harpoon.

A solid-fuel gas generator launches the harpoon, firing it into the honeycomb-like debris before releasing barbs into the material. Heavily compressed springs then fire the net, which uses weights and small motors to “engulf” rubbish.

Former RemoveDebris engineer Jason Forshaw said: “Nobody has ever tested the use of a net or a harpoon in space before for these purposes, so we’ll be the first; and while we have tested the net and the harpoon rigorously, you can’t get the real environment on the ground.”

SSC director Guglielmo Aglietti said: “It is important to remember that a few significant collisions have already happened, so the issue of controlling and reducing the space debris has to be addressed.

"We believe the technologies we will be demonstrating could provide feasible answers to the space junk problem — answers that could be used on space missions in the very near future.”

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