EPFL plans satellite that gobbles space junk like Pac-Man handles ghosts

Swiss space agency EPFL has revealed its plans to help clean up space debris like old satellites with a new Pac-Man-like solution called "CleanSpace One." The mission will involve a new satellite that will capture small pieces of orbiting junk through the use of a net. The idea actually came about as a solution to EPFL's first satellites, the small SwissCubes launched five years ago, that need to be collected so they don't pose further threats to other satellites or astronauts.

The SwissCubes measure only 4x4-inches, and they travel at speeds of up to 15,000 mph, making them not hard to find, but also dangerous other objects in Space. Plus, the Swiss just don't like the idea of contributing to the growing problem of junk and debris collecting in space.

The idea for the conical net came about after rejecting plans for designs like a claw at the end of a long arm or tentacle. Plus, a cone-shaped net offers more room for maneuvering and is more reliable when it comes to capturing small objects like the SwissCubes. The CleanSpace One will find the cubes with a special high dynamic-range camera and image processing software, spotting the reflections as the satellites spin in space.

Once a cube gets close enough, the net will unfold and then collapse back down on the debris. The EPFL says that once all the cubes are collected, CleanSpace One will return from orbit, with everything burning up during re-entry to Earth. Their engineers are now developing working models, having moved past the prototype stages, and hope to launch CleanSpace One by 2018.