Watch As Space Junk Is Captured By A Lightning-Fast Galactic Net For The First Time Ever
According to estimates, there are over 7600 tons of "space junk" floating around Earth right now. It's a serious problem that needs to be addressed but, while some researchers are developing lasers and other high-tech solutions, a team from the University of Surrey has just successfully tested a more "classic" approach. On September 16, the RemoveDEBRIS system was used to target and capture a small satellite with a net and a navigation system. The satellite it captured was placed intentionally as part of the test, but it proves that the system could be effective in removing the actual junk that is polluting the space around our planet.
"It worked just as we hoped it would," Surrey Space Center director Guglielmo Aglietti told the BBC. "The target was spinning like you would expect an uncooperative piece of junk to behave, but you can see clearly that the net captures it, and we're very happy with the way the experiment went." RemoveDEBRIS was deployed from the International Space Station back in June after a development phase that Airbus RemoveDEBRIS project head Ingo Retat says lasted for six years and involved parabolic flights, drop towers, and thermal vacuum chambers. During the test this week, the net moved at around 44MPH and was guided by cameras and a LiDAR (Light imaging Detection and Ranging) system towards its target. Now that the test is completed, the net and its catch of the day are expected to fall into the Earth's atmosphere will they will both burn to nothing. For the future, the researchers want to develop a towing system to control where the space debris is moved to.
With all the junk currently floating in space and the literal tons expected to be added in the coming years, the RemoveDEBRIS team is probably going to need a bigger net, but the plan was never to catch it all in one pass. "You can't just have like one garbage truck going around and picking up each [piece of debris]," Jonathan McDowell of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (an astrophysicist not involved with the test) told CNN. "To change from one orbit to another requires just as much rocket fuel as getting up there in the first place, so it's tricky to find a solution that is cost-effective."
RemoveDEBRIS is a promising step in the right direction, but a lot more research and funding will be required to even make a dent in the massive problem.