SEP 19, 2018 5:49 PM PDT

RemoveDebris Spacecraft Successfully Nets a Piece of Space Junk

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Experts approximate that there’s around 7.5 metric tons’ worth of space junk swirling around our planet. Most of this junk is comprised of dead satellites, spent rocket components, and small fragments produced during high-speed space junk collisions.

The space junk problem has raised a substantial amount of concern in recent years, with the primary fear being that it could one day become too challenging to navigate rockets and spacecraft through the space junk cloud. That said, researchers have started collaborating on ways to clean some of it up.

An artist's depiction of the space junk surrounding Earth. (Not drawn to scale, nor 100% accurate))

Image Credit: Pixabay

One of many space junk-cleaning implementations has been the British RemoveDebris spacecraft, which could validate the use of nets and harpoons for wrangling nearby space junk and facilitating its descent into Earth’s atmosphere where it can burn up during re-entry.

RemoveDebris was released into orbit around the Earth from the International Space Station earlier this year, and the proof-of-concept mission recently made its first attempt at validating anti-space junk nets.

The RemoveDebris spacecraft being deployed from the International Space Station.

Image Credit: NASA/NanoRacks/Ricky Arnold

The footage below, captured with a camera mounted on the side of RemoveDebris, shows a net being ejected from the spacecraft and ensnaring a nearby piece of tumbling space junk:

Admittedly, this wasn’t a genuine piece of space junk; instead, it was an experimental object brought along by RemoveDebris and deployed right before the net launched.

Had this have been an official space junk cleanup effort, then a tether line would have been connected to the net to drag the space junk back toward Earth. Because it was merely a proof-of-concept, however, the net was ejected without a tether. Regardless, the brilliant display shows the potential of space junk-collecting nets as a legitimate clean-up method in the future.

"It worked just as we hoped it would," Prof. Guglielmo Aglietti of the Surrey Space Centre told the BBC. "The target was spinning like you would expect an uncooperative piece of junk to behave, but you can see clearly that the net captures it, and we're very happy with the way the experiment went."

Related: Could magnets help us remove space junk from the Earth's neighborhood?

In the future, RemoveDebris will test the harpoon method to see if it’s just as effective at wrangling space junk as nets appear to be. The harpoon, which doesn’t have a surface area limitation, could be better suited for more significant bits of space junk; but just like this test, the harpoon test would involve a piece of dummy space junk brought along specifically for the trip.

It should be interesting to see how RemoveDebris performs in the harpoon testing and whether space cleanup efforts will eventually adopt its net-based wrangling methods. It’s too early to tell as of now, but perhaps the answer will reveal itself in due time.

Source: BBC

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
OCT 27, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Researchers Discover a Planet That "Shouldn't Exist"
OCT 27, 2020
Researchers Discover a Planet That "Shouldn't Exist"
Neptune was once known as a gas giant, but after scientists found that it was composed of heavy and volatile elements it ...
NOV 07, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Scientists Discover Planet with Atmosphere of Vaporized Rock
NOV 07, 2020
Scientists Discover Planet with Atmosphere of Vaporized Rock
Researchers have identified an exoplanet that appears to have an atmosphere composed of vaporized rock and oceans runnin ...
NOV 09, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Icy Planet Between Saturn and Uranus Expelled from Solar System
NOV 09, 2020
Icy Planet Between Saturn and Uranus Expelled from Solar System
In mapping the original locations of Saturn and Jupiter in our Solar System, astronomers have found that there was once ...
NOV 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
China to Obtain First Lunar Samples Since 1976
NOV 26, 2020
China to Obtain First Lunar Samples Since 1976
On November 23, 2020, China launched its unmanned Chang'e-5 spacecraft on a mission to the Moon to bring fresh lunar ...
DEC 19, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Advanced Chemistry Module to Aid Future Mars Exploration
DEC 19, 2020
Advanced Chemistry Module to Aid Future Mars Exploration
Despite its resemblance to Earth, Mars, our planetary neighbor, is not exactly a friendly environment for human explorer ...
MAY 01, 2021
Space & Astronomy
Small Galaxies Played Key Role in Evolution of the Universe
MAY 01, 2021
Small Galaxies Played Key Role in Evolution of the Universe
Astrophysicists from the University of Minnesota have found evidence for the theory that small galaxies emitting high-en ...
Loading Comments...