Watch How RemoveDEBRIS' Futuristic Space Net Cleans Up Orbiting Garbage
Space might be expanding at a rate of 68 kilometers per second per megaparsec, but that’s still not enough room for us humans to keep filling it with all our trash without consequences.
So far, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Surveillance Network has identified around 8,000 human-made pieces of trash that are already casually floating above our heads at this very moment. That could potentially damage operational space technology or even interfere with future missions.
Fortunately, the custodian satellite RemoveDERBRIS might be here with the fix. Created by a group of international scientists and engineers created the spacecraft, RemoveDEBRIS was launched to the International Space Station by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in April. On Thursday, it demonstrated how it can literally fish space junk out of orbit using a massive net.
“We are absolutely delighted with the outcome of the net technology,” said Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Surrey Space Center, in a statement. “While it might sound like a simple idea, the complexity of using a net in space to capture a piece of debris took many years of planning, engineering and coordination.”
This was more a test run, RemoveDERBRIS didn’t trap a piece of actual space junk but a simulation of floating garbage. When the 220-pound orbiter was deployed from the ISS, it shot out a smaller satellite called CubeSat that it quickly reclaimed after firing its net.
If the system was fully in action, RemoveDERBRIS would then tug the space junk downwards forcing it to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere. But this was simply a field test of the clean-up method and there two tests remain to be completed before RemoveDEBRIS is ready to start cleaning up space in earnest.
In the following months, the satellite will attempt to hit a target with its built-in space harpoon. The goal of this experiment is to see whether it could one day skewer floating rocket debris using a vision-based detection system akin to self-driving car tech.
As pollution down here on Earth’s surface grows increasingly unmanageable, lets hope a future fleet of RemoveDERBRIS clones can stop it from becoming as bad above the atmosphere.