NEWS20 February 2019

RemoveDEBRIS succeeds in capturing space debris

The RemoveDEBRIS project has used its onboard harpoon to capture space debris in orbit for the first time. Comprising of a 1.5-metre boom with a piece of satellite panel on the end, the harpoon deploys from the spacecraft at a speed of 20 metres/sec, penetrating the target to accomplish its demonstration of the harpoon’s ability to capture space debris.

The RemoveDEBRIS project is one of the world’s first attempts to address the build-up of dangerous space debris. The project’s consortium is led by the University of Surrey and co-funded by the European Union, with the spacecraft in orbit operated by engineers from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), based on the Research Park.

This is the third successful experiment within the project; the first involved using its spacecraft’s onboard net to capture a simulated piece of debris. Following this, it trialled onboard vision-based navigation to monitor space debris.

RemoveDEBRIS is preparing for its fourth and final experiment, currently set to begin in March. This mission will involve RemoveDEBRIS inflating a sail that will drag the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere where it will subsequently be destroyed.

The spacecraft was initially deployed from the International Space Station in June 2018 and is co-funded by European Commission. The US Space Surveillance Network tracks approximately 40,000 objects and there is estimated to be more than 7,600 tonnes of ‘space junk’ in and around Earth’s orbit.

Read more about the RemoveDEBRIS mission here.