Researchers from Airbus and the University of Surrey in England have captured a small satellite in space using a net fired from another spacecraft.
Here’s the actual footage of the moment:
That makes “Space Debris Catcher” sound like one of the coolest jobs going in the future.
But it’s one possible solution to a very serious problem. The boom in nanosat launches under way right now could see the number of Low Earth Orbit spacecraft increase tenfold within a couple more years.
With that comes the potential for collisions, especially if space junk piles up and the potential for those collisions to cause thousands of collisions.
It only takes a fleck of paint travelling at 34,500km/h to crack a window on the International Space Station.
Space startups focus on putting more satellites into space. Cleaning up their mess – being nowhere near as attractive to VCs – is almost wholly reserved for universities and science agencies.
An Australian team is still working on nudging space junk into lower orbits with lasers so it will burn up.
And then there’s that net you just watched in action. The Surrey Space Centre team behind it calls it RemDEB (RemoveDEBRIS), and it’s co-funded by the European Commission.
The demonstration was set up to prove it works. You saw the main satellite platform deploying a CubeSat, then shooting a net to capture it. It took six years of mucking about in drop towers and thermal vacuum chambers to get it to this point.
During that time, Elon Musk, Boeing, OneWeb and Samsung alone threatened to add nearly 14,000 small satellites to LEO.
The next RemDEB experiment will aim to deploy a harpoon involved, and a dragsail to force it back into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up.
“We are absolutely delighted with the outcome of the net technology,” said Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, said.
“While it might sound like a simple idea, the complexity of using a net in space to capture a piece of debris took many years of planning, engineering and coordination between the Surrey Space Centre, Airbus and our partners – but there is more work to be done.
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