Tidying Up the Cosmos

The RemoveDEBRIS satellite platform was recently shipped to Florida’s Kennedy Space Center for launch to the International Space Station. It is designed to test methods of cleaning up the estimated 7000 tons of space junk now orbiting the planet, from tiny flecks of paint to dead satellites and rocket parts. Satellite collisions already have occurred and congestion is only getting worse. In one planned test, a released CubeSat will be enveloped in a net to force it back into the atmosphere where it will burn up. In another, harpooning will be used to simulate a collision between orbiting objects. An additional experiment will test vision navigation using LiDaR technology to determine satellite position and orientation, necessary for in-space rendez-vous. At the end of the mission, a drag sail will be deployed from the platform with the same intent as the net experiment. Led by the University of Surrey Space Centre, the consortium behind the novel R&D effort is funded by the European Commision and includes Airbus and other space-related companies.

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