The RemoveDebris satellite, developed by the British company SSTL and intended for experiments on the purification of near-earth orbit, first caught in the network “space debris”. According to a report from the University of Surrey, during an experiment conducted on September 16, 2018, RemoveDebris caught in the network an object that simulated space debris and which the testers launched from the International Space Station a little earlier. In general, the tests were recognized as successful.
On the Earth’s orbit there are currently about eight thousand tons of space debris. The various kinds of small fragments estimated in hundreds of thousands pose a serious threat to spacecraft – in 2017, space debris collided with the observational module of the International Space Station and left a seven-millimeter crack in its porthole. A reliable way to remove debris from Earth’s orbit does not exist yet, and to reduce the probability of collision with it, specialists correct the orbits of spacecraft.
If the developers manage to confirm the effectiveness of the RemoveDebris satellite, similar devices will be used in the future to clear the orbit from space debris. A hundred-kilogram apparatus was launched into orbit around the Earth on June 20, 2018, after which it checked its on-board systems. The satellite is equipped with a camera and a lidar for tracking various types of debris in orbit, a network for capturing small debris and a harpoon for catching large ones.
The tests of RemoveDebris are conducted in three stages. At the first stage, the satellite released the network and caught in it an object – a space debris simulator, which the testers launched a little earlier. The launched network hooked the object, which began to get tangled in it. Then six special electric motors, installed along the edges of the network, pulled it into a knot. At the second stage of the tests, the camera and lidar RemoveDebris will be inspected, and on the third – the harpoon work. Upon completion of the checks, the satellite will enter the Earth’s atmosphere and collapse.
Previously, developers have already proposed several projects to clean up the Earth’s orbit from space debris. Among them were satellites with an adhesive layer for adhering debris and electrodynamic traps to slow the flight speed of various debris. For more details about the problem of space debris and possible ways to deal with it, read in our material “Garbage belt” .