Three years ago, Swiss research institute EPFL announced its plans to build a spacecraft that could grab orbital debris and then carry it back towards Earth, burning up in the atmosphere with it on its way down. Called CleanSpace One,
the satellite was depicted at the time as using a claw-like grasping
tool. Now, however, EPFL has announced that it will utilize a folding
conical net to essentially gobble up bits of space garbage.
Scientists estimate there are 20,000 particles of space junk measuring up at over 10 cm in diameter currently hurtling around the earth at an average velocity of 25,000 km/h, threatening to damage or destroy orbiting satellites. To combat the problem, the German Government has granted the German Aerospace Center (DLR) €25 million to create a system to track space junk as it orbits the earth and the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR) has been tasked with creating the new system's radar component.
ESA's mission to
mitigate the environmental impacts on low-Earth orbit from mankind's
relentless march into space has entered a new phase, ahead of its
make-or-break review before the ESA's Council of Ministers in
December 2016. The e.Deorbit program would launch multiple
debris-seeking probes into orbit each year, tasked with the removal of
defunct satellites and other potentially hazardous man-made objects
from low-Earth orbit.
The ESA has been testing the possibility of using one of mankind's earliest inventions to cope with one of its newest challenges, by testing a concept that would allow satellites to net and de-orbit space debris in a safe and controlled manner. Space debris is an ever-increasing problem, and agencies around the world are starting to take steps to preserve the low-Earth orbit environment vital for a sustainable space industry.
Ground was broken at the future six-acre (2.4-hectare) site of the new Space Fence
radar system in a special ceremony last month on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The ceremony marked the official start of construction of the system that will replace the Air Force Space Surveillance System (AFSSS) in tracking objects in orbit, including commercial and military satellites and debris from collisions.
Key orbits frequented by GPS and communications satellites are becoming more and more hazardous, as man-made debris presents an increasingly palpable danger to the valuable assets orbiting at heights of around 2,000 km (1,243 miles) above the Earth. That' s why the European Space Agency (ESA) is hosting an international workshop geared towards cleaning up low-Earth orbit, with a focus on how to make the space industry more sustainable.
Gripping technology inspired by the force that geckos use to climb even vertical, smooth surfaces has been tested in microgravity. Researchers want to see if it might one day be used to get work done in outer space, and clean up the increasing amount of debris floating in orbit around the Earth.
In order to dodge something, you need to see it. If that something is space debris
then sometimes the best thing to use is an old-fashioned telescope – or, in the case of the US Department of Defense, a state-of-the-art telescope capable of searching an area larger than the United States in seconds. That’s why DARPA is preparing to deliver the new Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) to Western Australia, where it will help track small satellites and space debris orbiting the Earth when it becomes operational in 2016.
Back in the 1970s, there was a short-lived sitcom called Quark
about an outer space rubbish collector. What was played for laughs back then may soon be a reality with the announcement that Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Swiss Space Systems (S3) have formed a partnership to launch the CleanSpace One
satellite into orbit to collect space debris using a launch system that promises to be cheaper than using conventional techniques.
Julie McEnery is NASA's Project Scientist for the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. When she checked her email on March 29, 2012, she was startled to find an automatically generated message stating that in six days, her half-billion-plus dollar satellite was going to cross paths with Cosmos 1805, a Soviet-era spy satellite. The predicted encounter had the two satellites occupying the same coordinates only 30 milliseconds apart. Not only that, but Cosmos was in an orbit moving nearly perpendicular to Fermi such that their collision would be equivalent to tons of high explosives. Essentially total destruction.