First Satellite to Collect Space Junk Deployed by International Space Station


The International Space Station (ISS) has deployed the first-ever satellite that will test any possible solutions to remove debris from the space. The new RemoveDebris satellite will use a net and harpoon to collect space debris. The satellite, built by Britain, is one of the first of its kind built in an attempt to clear the ever increasing junk in the space that is orbiting the Earth.

The satellite will also be used to test radar systems and advanced cameras. It was launched from a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft from Florida in the month of April.

The British space agency said in a statement that the experiment is important for the 100-kg satellite as there are thousands of space debris pieces that are circulating the planet and many of them travel faster than the speed of the bullet posing great risk for the highly valuable satellites and also for the ISS. Once the experiments are complete the satellite will unfurl a drag sail to bring the collected debris and itself out of the orbit where it will be burnt as it enters the atmosphere of Earth.

The drag sail will help the satellite in speeding up its deorbiting process which will possibly occur at some point in March 2019, according to the people behind the RemoveDebris mission. While it may generally take around 100 weeks or more for the satellite to deorbit itself, the sail used now could produce enough drag for the satellite to finish the process in just 10 weeks or even less.

The RemoveDEBRIS mission is led by University of Surrey and the satellite is built by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) – the world’s leading manufacturer of small satellites – while the on-board technology is designed by Airbus.

“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.

Aglietti further added that the space industry will watch the experiment very closely as space debris is a growing problem and all space agencies agree in taking steps towards dealing with the issue. He also noted that while they have tested the satellite’s capability on the ground, they cannot guarantee that the situation in the space will be similar to that of the ground. He said that whatever happens in the space will be a learning experience.