• A satellite has for the first time collected debris in space.
  • The RemoveDEBRIS satellite from the University of Surrey used an on-board net, which expanded like a web to snare the a simulated flotsam.
  • It took six years of testing in parabolic flights, in special drop towers, and thermal vacuum chambers to get the net technology to work. 

The University of Surrey's RemoveDEBRIS satellite has successfully used its on-board net technology in orbit, the first demonstration in history of active debris removal (ADR) technology.

The spacecraft used a net which expanded like a giant web to capture a deployed target simulating a piece of space debris, scientists revealed a press release.

This is all in the effort to reduce 7.6 tonnes of "space junk" estimated to be floating around the Earth’s orbit, some of which is moving at speeds of 48,000 km/h – and pose dangers to everything from expensive communication satellites to, one day, space tourists.

See also: The International Space Station sprung a leak this week — and it shows why a space junk disaster is so dangerous

“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 between the Surrey Space Centre, Airbus and our partners – but there is more work to be done,” said Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Surrey Space Centre.

It took six years of testing in parabolic flights, in special drop towers and in thermal vacuum chambers to get the net technology to work.

The satellite will do further tests using ADR technology including:

  • Testing a vision-based navigation system that uses cameras and LiDaR technology.
  • Analysing and observing potential pieces of debris.
  • Deploying the first harpoon capture technology used in orbit.

It’s final test will be to deploy a drag-sail that will bring it into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up.

RemoveDEBRIS was designed, built, and manufactured by a consortium of space companies and research institutions led by the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey. The spacecraft is operated in orbit by engineers at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd in Guildford, UK. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.

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