RemoveDebris Satellite harpoons space debris

The Earth has an issue with space debris in orbit in the form of failed satellites and other items. The challenge is in removing the space debris before it accumulates or poses a risk to functioning satellites and spacecraft in orbit. To address the issue of space debris the RemoveDebris satellite was placed into orbit, and it has a harpoon for grabbing space debris to remove from orbit.

The satellite has successfully used its harpoon-capture system in orbit to grab space debris. The harpoon was designed by Airbus Stevenage and has a 1.5-meter long boom deployed from the main RemoveDebris spacecraft with a piece of satellite panel on the end. The harpoon was fired at 20 meters/sec to penetrate the target and demonstrate the ability to capture debris.

The successful use of the harpoon marks the third successful experiment for the RemoveDebris project. In the past, RemoveDebris has used an on-board net to capture a simulated piece of debris. It has also tested its LiDAR camera vision navigation system to identify space junk.

The final phase of the experiment is when the RemoveDebris satellite will inflate a sail that will drag the satellite into Earth's atmosphere where it will burn up on reentry destroying it and the debris. It's not clear when similar satellites might be deployed to clean up real space debris.

Currently, the US Space Surveillance Network tracks 40,000 objects and estimates claim there are more than 7,600 tons of debris in orbit. Some of the trash is orbiting at 30,000 miles per hour and could pose a hazard to communications gear. The project is co-funded by the European Union.