Article Source: IMehcE 

A prototype space junk-hunting machine will test ways of tackling the 7,000-tonne issue after launching aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

Flown into orbit last night, the University of Surrey-led RemoveDebris satellite will test a net and harpoon for catching fragments of obsolete spacecraft. The UK Space Agency said the device – built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited and with Airbus technology on-board – “showcases the ingenuity of the UK space sector.”

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.

“Observation, weather monitoring, communications, your TV, phones, GPS – most things you can imagine go through satellites,” former RemoveDebris engineer Jason Forshaw told Professional Engineering previously. “A lot of orbits become full of satellite space junk and it’s a threat.”

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 the dart into the honeycomb-like debris before releasing barbs into the material. A series of heavily compressed springs fire the net, which uses weights and small motors to “engulf” rubbish.

“Nobody has ever tested a net or a harpoon in space before for these purposes, so we’ll be the first,” said Forshaw. “We have tested the net and the harpoon to death, but you can’t get the real environment on the ground.”

Some travelling faster than speeding bullets, fragments of space debris threaten valuable satellites and even the ISS.

“It is important to remember that a few significant collisions have already happened,” said Surrey Space Centre director Guglielmo Aglietti. “Therefore, to maintain the safety of current and future space assets, the issue of the control and reduction of 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 future space missions in the very near future.”

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