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Watch A Net Capture a Satellite in Space

Net deploying to capture a satellite in space 1 photo
Photo: Youtube / Surrey Nanosats SSC Mission Delivery Team
Back in April, a SpaceX Falcon rocket delivered to the International Space Station (ISS) the RemoveDebris platform, a series of technologies being researched as means to rid the world of the tons of space junk floating above our planet.
RemoveDebris comprises several tools created specifically for this task, namely a net, a harpoon, and a drag sail. Experiments are currently undergoing around the ISS, and the first video showing one of this tools in action surfaced this week.

The video was posted on an University of Surrey Youtube channel – Surrey researchers are the ones who developed the platform – and shows raw images of the net successfully capturing one of the two CubeSats deployed to act as space junk.

The net is seen expanding as a six-pointed star, hurtling towards its intended target and then contracting around it as soon as contact is made. The closing of the net is being done with the help of motor-driven winches which reel in the neck of the net, also preventing it from re-opening.

What remains is a netted piece of hardware spinning aimlessly in space.

Surrey engineers did not elaborate on what happens after that, as simply casting the net around a piece of space junk is not enough in terms of removing it from orbit.

The other two components of the RemoveDebris are still to be tested. The harpoon is supposed to hit a 10x10 cm (4x4 inches) target from 1.5 meters (5 feet) away, while the drag sail, once attached to the target, is meant to allow the satellite to de-orbit quicker and burn up faster in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The RemoveDebris platform was deployed from the ISS in June, becoming the largest payload ever released from the space station. Should they work, the technologies developed for it might help the world rid itself of the space debris scurge.

There are currently an estimated half a million pieces of man-made space debris circling the Earth at 28,000 km/h (17,500 miles per hour) on various orbits. And these are only the trackable ones.

An additional 180 million pieces of junk sized between 1 and 10 cm (0.4 – 4 inches) are also floating around at high velocities.

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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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