The International Space Station has launched RemoveDebris, the first spacecraft that will attempt to clean up the space junk that has started to accumulate around the Earth.
The RemoveDebris satellite was created by European company Airbus and was sent to the International Space Station by the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in April. The collaborative effort underscores the great need for space debris removal as humans look to continue venturing into space for scientific and commercial purposes.
How Can We Clean Up Space Junk?
The orbit of the Earth is filling up with space junk, mostly due to satellites that have been destroyed or decommissioned. There has so far not been an incident of space debris causing significant damage on a crewed mission, but the risk will continue to increase as humans launch more space missions and more space junk accumulate.
The RemoveDebris spacecraft by Airbus is designed to be the first working solution to the space debris problem. There are also other methods in the works, including a powerful space laser that the Russian Space Agency is constructing that will fire at the space junk.
RemoveDebris Launch To Test Space Debris Removal
The 100-kilogram RemoveDebris satellite has been released from the International Space Station to start its mission.
Over the next two months, ground controllers will be switching on the RemoveDebris spacecraft's susbsystems to check if they work properly, according to Guglielmo Aglietti. Aglietti is the director of the University of Surrey's Surrey Space Centre and the principal investigator of the $18.7 million mission that is funded by the European Union.
The RemoveDebris spacecraft is equipped with three experiments for cleaning up space junk. All three experiments will be recorded through high-definition video, which will be sent back to Earth.
The first experiment is the debris-catching net, which will be conducted in October. The satellite will release a small cubesat and let it drift away to more than 20 feet and then launch a net that will attempt to capture the cubesat.
In December, RemoveDebris will test its vision-based navigation systems that use 2D cameras and 3D LIDAR technology to track another cubesat that will float away from it.
RemoveDebris will then start the last of three experiments, through arguably its most popular one, in February next year. The spacecraft will launch a pen-sized harpoon that will look to reel in a panel that it will deploy.
The RemoveDebris satellite will then launch a drag sail in March 2019 to slow down, speeding up its deorbiting process. It will then burn up as it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere, but it will have served its purpose by then of determining the efficiency of the space junk cleaning experiments.