The continuously increasing volume of space junk and debris in Earth’s orbit has not been responsible for a catastrophic event just yet albeit with possibilities for continuous increase as various missions are launched above the Earth’s atmosphere into the unknown. The majority of content in the space debris and waste is derived from the defunct or destroyed satellites. In order to address this concern, a small cube has been designed that could clean up a formidable problem surrounding our planet.
The efforts of different companies such as Surrey Satellite Technology, NanoRacks and Airbus for cleansing the cluttered space in Earth’s orbit have led to the development and recent launch of a satellite shaped in the form of a cube to the International Space Station. The satellite is known as ‘RemoveDEBRIS’ and was launched aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule. The RemoveDEBRIS is equipped with a harpoon which could be deployed for spearing and collection of space junk.
After its arrival at the ISS, the RemoveDEBRIS satellite was released from the station through a robotic arm termed as Canadarm2 which was followed by confirmation of researchers at the University of Surrey in England establishing contact with the satellite. The satellite is termed as one of the biggest payloads to be deployed from the ISS till now with a weight of 220 pounds. In the coming months, engineers would maintain contact with RemoveDEBRIS even if the satellite is not expected to deploy its harpoon till the initiation of experiments in the later part of this year.
It is interesting to observe that the harpoon is a mere tool in the multifaceted RemoveDEBRIS which is also equipped with a large drag sail for deorbiting and braking as well as a net for capturing space debris. Therefore all the features of the satellite would be subjected to experiments separately by researchers. The evaluation of the drag sail is considerably important as it will be the final tool to be employed by the satellite for falling back to Earth after collection of junk. This would ensure that the satellite could be safely deorbited without adding up to the already existing waste and space debris.