SpaceX Builds "Giant Catcher's Mitt" To Catch Space Debris

Thursday, 22 February 2018 - 10:30AM
Space
Technology
SpaceX
Thursday, 22 February 2018 - 10:30AM
SpaceX Builds "Giant Catcher's Mitt" To Catch Space Debris
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Image credit: NASA
Picture this: you go for a walk on a sunny spring day. You're minding your own business, thinking about just how pleasant the weather is when – BOOM! You're unceremoniously crushed to death by a giant free-falling chunk of space shuttle debris.

Falling space junk is a problem that will continue to plague Earth over the coming years, as the commercial space race pushes competing companies to blast as many rockets as possible into orbit. But what goes up must eventually come down. Many pieces and parts of these space missions will rain back down onto the planet (although an effort is made to keep them away from urban areas).

Thankfully, the leading company in the ongoing commercialization of space, Elon Musk's SpaceX, has a new plan to deal with falling debris so that it doesn't plummet into the ocean and sink beneath the waves – a very real concern, considering that the company operates floating landing pads for their gear.

The solution? A giant clawed net that perches atop a boat, ready to grab anything that falls down following a launch.




SpaceX CEO Elon Musk described this new creation as "a giant catcher's mitt, in boat form." It will be used primarily to catch reusable equipment since much of the SpaceX business model revolves around multi-use gear that can be repeatedly shot into the stratosphere. This equipment is only useful if it can be recovered, hence the need to grab it before it's lost to the oceanic depths (and eventually washes up as flotsam on a distant beach, absolutely ruining somebody's vacation).

It's estimated that, if the catcher's mitt works as intended, it could save SpaceX up to $5 million. This will be nice for Musk personally – but for the rest of us, it simply means that the billionaire's space company will be dumping less trash in the ocean. Space travel isn't exactly great for the environment.

The boat that plays host to the catcher's mitt is named "Mr. Stevens" (for unknown but probably ridiculous reasons) and is capable of speeds of up to 38 mph across the water. All SpaceX launch gear comes equipped with geotagged parachutes to help the crew operating Mr. Stevens know where the boat ought to be in order to snatch anything that falls from the sky.

Catching falling space debris isn't going to be an easy challenge, but this innovative approach is certainly better than ignoring the problem altogether.

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NASA
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