British satellite tests its space harpoon

Last summer, a new type of debris search satellite was launched by the International Space Station (ISS). This is the RemoveDebris spacecraft, a technology demonstrator developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and the Surrey Space Center. The purpose of this satellite is to verify whether satellites equipped with targeting software, a debris net and a harpoon are effective in the fight against space debris.

In recent months, this spacecraft has conducted a series of Active Debris Removal (ADR) exercises. About a week ago, according to a recent statement, the RemoveDebris satellite tested his harpoon for the first time. As you can see on the video, the satellite has successfully demonstrated its harpoon system and verified its ability to secure space debris and prevent it from flying away.

The test was conducted on Friday, February 8th and consisted of striking the satellite harpoon on a target plate mounted on a pole at a distance of 1.5 m (4.9 ft). The harpoon (developed by Airbus Defense and Space) was launched at a speed of 20 meters per second (72 km / h; 45 mph) and drove the target while a plugged cable was preventing the aircraft. device to fly in space.

As said Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Center at the University of Surrey and principal investigator of RemoveDebris, in a press release from the University of Surrey:

"This is the most demanding experience of RemoveDebris and the success of this operation is proof of that. The RemoveDebris project provides tangible evidence of what can be achieved with the power of collaboration: bringing together the experience gained in industry and research to achieve something really remarkable. "

This test was the third in a series designed to evaluate and validate the ability of RemoveDebris systems to handle space wastes. The first test took place in September and consisted of a deployment of the probe network to capture a CubeSat. Designated DebrisSat 1, this CubeSat carried an embedded balloon that inflated to simulate a large orbital debris.

Chris Skidmore, UK Minister of Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, also hailed this success. "Space debris can have serious consequences on our communication systems if they break up into satellites. This inspiring project shows that British experts are providing answers to this potential problem by using a harpoon, a tool that people have always used, "he said.

The second test, which took place in October, validated the spacecraft's tracking and telemetry lasers, algorithms, and vision-based navigation technology. The test consisted in releasing a second CubeSat (DebrisSat 2), then taking pictures of it and its environment using its LiDAR flash and its color camera.

As Thomas Chabot, Head of Vision Debris Navigation System (VBN) at RemoveDebris told Airbus:

"Vision-based navigation sensors and algorithms are essential for making appointments and subsequently capturing non-cooperative space targets such as orbital debris. Thanks to the navigation experience based on the vision that has just taken place aboard RemoveDEBRIS, a key step in demonstrating the adequacy of the VBN system and evaluating its performance in flight has been achieved, paving the way for its use for operational missions of active removal of debris or maintenance in orbit. "

The spacecraft is about 1 meter square and weighs about 100 kg (220 pounds), making it the largest satellite deployed in the ISS to date. It contains experiments provided by many European aerospace companies and is one of the concepts currently being explored as a way to limit space debris.

According to the US Space Monitoring Network, there are more than 7,600 metric tons (3,777.5 US tons) of space junks in and around the Earth's orbit. Some of these objects reach speeds of up to 48,000 km / h (30,000 mph), so even micron-sized debris poses a serious threat to space missions and space stations. orbit. And it will only get worse.

In the coming years, thousands of satellites should be launched to meet the growing demand for telecommunication services and broadband Internet access worldwide. In addition, NASA and other space agencies plan to conduct missions beyond the LEO mission, which will result in more rocket launch phases and various components dropped into orbit.

For this reason, a serious cleaning is necessary so that the sky stays above and the ways of the space are cleared. Knowing that at least one of the methods proposed to achieve this is effective is certainly encouraging.

Further reading: University of Surrey

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