For the first time human history, a satellite has been successfully used to capture a piece of space debris.
The RemoveDEBRIS satellite, designed, built and manufactured by a consortium of leading space companies and research institutions led by the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, used a net to capture a deployed target simulating a piece of space debris.
Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Surrey Space Centre, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the outcome of the net technology. While it might sound like a simple idea, the complexity of using a net in space to capture a piece of debris took many years of planning, engineering and coordination between the Surrey Space Centre, Airbus and our partners – but there is more work to be done. These are very exciting times for us all.”
In the coming months, RemoveDEBRIS – operated in orbit by engineers at Surrey Satellite Technology – will test more active debris removal (ADR) technologies: a vision-based navigation system that uses cameras and LiDaR technology to analyse and observe potential pieces of debris; the first harpoon capture technology used in orbit; and a drag-sail that will finally bring RemoveDEBRIS into the Earth’s atmosphere where it will be destroyed, bringing its mission to a close.
The US Space Surveillance Network tracks 40,000 objects and it is estimated that there are more than 7,600 tonnes of ‘space junk’ in and around Earth’s orbit - with some moving faster than a speeding bullet, approaching speeds of 30,000 miles per hour.
Ingo Retat, Airbus RemoveDEBRIS project head, said: “To develop this net technology to capture space debris we spent 6 years testing in parabolic flights, in special drop towers and also thermal vacuum chambers.Our small team of engineers and technicians have done an amazing job moving us one step closer to clearing up low Earth orbit.”
The UK interests in the RemoveDEBRIS consortium consists of:
Mission and consortium coordination – Surrey Space Centre
Platform, avionics and spacecraft operations – SSTL