RemoveDEBRIS Satellite Harpoons Target While Orbiting Earth

RemoveDEBRIS Satellite Harpoons Target While Orbiting Earth

The harpoon, which is a joint initiative including British efforts from Airbus, the University of Surrey and the Surrey Satellite Technology firm, is capable of travelling at 20m/s.

The harpoon's design was tested on the ground before the technology was launched.

The success of the harpoon firing marks the third successful experiment for the RemoveDEBRIS project which has already demonstrated a net capture experiment and trialled its LiDAR based vision navigation system to identify a target cubesat. A panel was dangled like a piece of space debris and the harpoon was sacked at it.

Once the engineers could review all that data, they confirmed that the harpoon hit the target at a speed of 65 feet per second (20 meters per second). The carbon-fiber boom the target was attached to didn't withstand the force of the impact and snapped.

When in full operation, scientists aim to make the harpoon fire at debris up to 30m away.


"There's common agreement that this is a problem and needs to be dealt with - dealing with the agencies, they've all been really helpful and really supportive of what we've done, but obviously they are naturally cautious because we're starting to use space in ways that we've not done before".

The idea here is fairly simple: Manmade debris in Earth orbit will eventually fall into the atmosphere and be incinerated by the intense friction, and speeding up that process is likely the easiest way to do away with space junk.

Aglietti said the next step for the consortium, which includes Airbus, would be to offer this as a real service and go after real space debris. The space around Earth is now cluttered with what is lovingly referred to as "space junk" - bits of rockets, long-dead satellites, and other debris - and someone is going to have to clean it up sooner or later. The agency, however, eventually made a decision to redesign the mission as a multipurpose vehicle and use a robotic arm instead.

The University of Surrey's Guglielmo Aglietti said that the steel-tipped harpoon scored a bull's-eye. The spacecraft, the first in history to demonstrate active space-debris-removal technology in orbit, was released into space from the International Space Station in June 2018. "The RemoveDebris project provides strong evidence of what can be achieved with the power of collaboration - pooling together the experience across industry and the research field to achieve something truly remarkable".

The same team used a net to capture a piece of space junk, in a test last September.

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