Back of the net! The Surrey Space Centre’s RemoveDebris satellite has successfully captured ‘space junk’ on its first test run.
The satellite deployed its net to capture a man-made target simulating a piece of space junk while in orbit more than 300km above the surface of the Earth (most real space junk lies between 800-850km above Earth). It is the first demonstration of its kind ever to succeed.
“We are absolutely delighted with the outcome of the net technology,” said Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre. “While it might sound like a simple idea, the complexity of using a net in space to capture a piece of debris took years of planning, engineering and coordination between the Surrey Space Centre, Airbus and our partners – but there is more work to be done. These are very exciting times for us all.”
The US Space Surveillance Network currently tracks around 40,000 pieces of space junk orbiting Earth. With some pieces travelling at speeds approaching 48,300km/h (30,000mph) there is a serious risk of them damaging satellites should a collision occur.
In the coming months, RemoveDebris will test more of its junk retrieval technologies including a vision-based navigation system that uses specially designed cameras to analyse and observe potential pieces of junk and a harpoon capture system. Once the trials are complete the satellite will release a drag-sail that will the bring it into the Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up.
This is an extract from issue 328 of BBC Focus magazine.
Subscribe and get the full article delivered to your door, or download the BBC Focus app to read it on your smartphone or tablet. Find out more
Follow Science Focus on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flipboard