Satellite Uses Harpoon to Demonstrate Space Debris Collection Capability

An experimental satellite from the RemoveDEBRIS consortium has successfully shown that it is capable of capturing space debris by using its on-board harpoon. The demonstration was done last 8 February 2019.

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Footage: University of Surrey

The harpoon was fired at a dummy space debris consisting of a piece of satellite panel. The panel was attached to the end of a 1.5-meter (4.9 feet) boom, which extended from the satellite. The fired harpoon traveled at 20 meters per second, which then pierced and clung to the panel.

The demonstration is the third of four experiments designed to test the satellite’s capabilities while in orbit. The first experiment tested its first space debris capture system: a net fired from the satellite to capture a dummy space debris. This was followed by a second experiment, which tested the LIDAR and camera systems for navigation and debris identification.

A fourth experiment is scheduled to test the dragsail system and the self-destruction of RemoveDEBRIS. The dragsail is designed to increase the satellite’s drag, which will force it to deorbit. As it falls towards Earth, RemoveDEBRIS should significantly be destroyed by atmospheric friction.

Debris in space poses a risk to all space missions due to the increased possibility of collision. As of 2016, there are currently more than 17,000 known human-made objects orbitting Earth. It’s also been estimated that as of 2013, there were more than 170 million pieces of space debris at least 1 millimeter in size.

Estimated positions of objects in space in low Earth orbit (within 2,000 kilometers of Earth’s surface) Photo: NASA

RemoveDEBRIS is a satellite research project that aims to test various space debris removal methods. The project is a joint effort by the RemoveDEBRIS consortium led by the University of Surrey.

The other members of the consortium include Airbus Defence and Space, Airbus Safran Launchers, Surrey Satellite Technology, Innovative Solutions In Space, Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology, National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation, and Stellenbosch University.

You can watch the animation of the whole mission from the video linked below.

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John is a mechanical and environmental engineer who is fascinated with current and future tech. To this day, he still can't get over how amazing touchscreens and airplanes are.