First satellite to collect space junk set deployed from International Space Station

Spaceflight Outer space Spacecraft International Space Station United States Department of Energy national laboratories Space debris Satellite Space station NanoRacks ESA Scientific Research on the International Space Station

Britain's mission to test ways to clean up space junk has been deployed for the first time from the International Space Station, it was revealed Friday. The credit for the technology goes to Airbus.

Researchers have named this mission as RemoveDebris mission and the satellite as RemoveDebris. The RemoveDEBRIS mission During the experiment, the RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft will release a small "target" satellite into space and then will use a net to recapture it. The satellite was designed, built and manufactured by a consortium of space companies and research institutions, led by the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey.

To help clean up the cluttered space around the Earth, a number of different companies, including Airbus, Surrey Satellite Technology, and NanoRacks, recently launched a cube-shaped satellite (onboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule) to the International Space Station. "We all are thrilled to observe the outcomes of the experiments and the influence this initiative might have in the forthcoming years". More experiments will follow in 2019, with the harpoon test scheduled for February.

That drag sail is especially important - it's the final tool that RemoveDEBRIS will use since it will allow the satellite to fall back to Earth, but it will also be important for showing how a satellite can be safely deorbited so it won't add to the clutter.

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"The sail produces a significant amount of drag so that the spacecraft slows down and its orbit decays much faster than it would without the sail", said Aglietti. The spacecraft is expected to de-orbit in about 10 weeks. Space debris is a growing problem, and the world's space agencies agree that steps must be taken to tackle the issue.

Active space debris-removal technologies, such as harpoons and nets, are becoming increasingly important as well. For us, whatever happens during the mission will be a learning experience. It will also fire a small harpoon at a target plate to see if the technology can accurately work in the weightless environment. A small cubesat will be launched from the spacecraft after it drifts about 5 to 7 meters, a net will be deployed and it is created to catch the satellite and drag it into the atmosphere, where it will burn up.

The RemoveDEBRIS mission, led by the University of Surrey and built by the world's leading small satellite manufacturer Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), with technology on board designed by Airbus, is one of the world's first attempts to tackle the build-up of unsafe space debris orbiting the Earth.

"If successful, the technologies found in RemoveDEBRIS could be included in other missions in the very near future", said Guglielmo Aglietti, Professor at the University of Surrey.

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