Watch out zero-gravity trash, the space harpoon is coming

This space harpoon might finally be the answer to all the junk floating around Earth

This space harpoon might finally be the answer to all the junk floating around Earth

It previously used its on-board net to capture a simulated piece of debris, and then trialled its state-of-the-art LiDAR and camera based vision navigation system to identify space junk, according to a statement by the University of Surrey. European and USA space agencies are monitoring approximately 20,000 objects as big or bigger than a baseball and 50,000 objects as big as a marble.

"The idea is that you can shoot an old satellite and then you pull it down until it burns into the atmosphere", Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

The RemoveDEBRIS project, which is operated by Surrey Satellite Technology with the help of other organizations like Airbus and CSEM, today reported a successful in-space experiment that demonstrated the effectiveness of using harpoons to collect space junk.

British astronaut Tim Peake shared an image of a chipped window panel on board the International Space Station in 2016 which could have been caused by something as small as a chip of paint moving at thousands of kilometres-an-hour.

The harpoon project is just one of a series of experimental projects being launched worldwide including one that uses chaser craft to capture satellites using magnets.

He said the next step for the consortium, which includes the aeronautics company Airbus, would be to offer this as a service to go after real space debris.

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A previous RemoveDebris experiment demonstrated how a net could be used to catch potentially unsafe pieces of rubbish orbiting the Earth.

UK Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Chris Skidmore, said using the harpoon showed the answer to the debris problem could potentially be found in a tool humans have used throughout history. Dead satellites, rocket pieces and miscellaneous debris have collected around the planet and we need to figure out ways to clean it up.

But only 22,000 are tracked, and with the fragments able to travel at speeds above 27,000kmh (16,777 mph), even tiny pieces could seriously damage or destroy satellites.

Other orbits have considerably more debris spinning around Earth. This is how the group intends to vaporize the future unsafe debris it catches.

The first was in February 2009, when an Iridium telecoms satellite and Kosmos-2251, a Russian military satellite, accidentally collided. The test represents an important technological achievement given our mounting space junk problem. In 2007, the Chinese launched a missile at an old weather satellite, spraying shrapnel into Earth's orbit.

Scientists estimate satellites crash back to Earth at a rate of one a week. That number is in addition to the over 2,000 commercial and government satellites orbiting the earth at the present time.

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