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Orbital Debris Removal Satellite Launches Aboard Dragon Resupply Ship

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 3, 2018
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RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft during final assembly at SSTL. (Credit SSTL/Max Alexander)

A satellite equipped with a net and a harpoon was launched to the International Space Station on Monday as part of an experiment to capture and dispose of orbital debris.

The RemoveDebris spacecraft was aboard a SpaceX Dragon resupply ship launched from Cape Camaveral.  The European-built satellite will be deployed by astronauts from the space station.

RemoveDebris, which was built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) with contributions from across Europe, will test out four orbital debris technologies using a pair of target CubeSats.

The first experiment will use a net to capture one of the CubeSats. The second will use a harpoon to spear a deployed target plate composed of materials that represent a satellite panel.

The spacecraft will use Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) and cameras to rendezvous with the second deployed CubeSat. At the end of the mission, RemoveDebris will deploy a dragsail to reduce its orbit and reenter the Earth’s atmosphere.

“Since the beginning of the space era, orbital debris has progressively been building up and there are now almost 7,000 tons of it around the Earth,” SSTL Executive Chairman Martin Sweeting said. “It is now time for the international space community to begin to mitigate, limit and control space junk and I am very pleased that the RemoveDEBRIS consortium is leading the way with an innovative ADR mission which I hope will be a precursor to future operational ADR missions.”

The mission was co-funded by the European Commission and included the the following partners:

  • Mission & Consortium coordination – Surrey Space Centre (UK)
  • Satellite system engineering – ASF (France)
  • Platform & Avionics – SSTL (UK)
  • Harpoon – Airbus (UK)
  • Net – Airbus (Germany)
  • Vision Based Navigation – CSEM (Switzerland)/INRIA/Airbus (Toulouse)
  • CubeSat dispensers – Innovative Solutions in Space (Holland)
  • Target CubeSats – Surrey Space Centre (UK)/STE
  • Dragsail – Surrey Space Centre (UK).

“This is an excellent example of what can be achieved when Industry and Academia are working together to tackle real problems,” said Prof G. Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre and current principal investigator for the mission.

3 responses to “Orbital Debris Removal Satellite Launches Aboard Dragon Resupply Ship”

  1. OldCodger says:

    About time! It’s getting messy up there. I thought our generation was taught not to throw our rubbish away but to take it home with us? 🙂

    • JS Initials says:

      Yep! …Think millions of pieces orbiting Earth at 5 miles (8 km) /second. Just one small screw or washer (100-500 milligrams) striking the ISS would impact with the energy of a bullet. Statistics don’t always give peace of mind.

      • Paul451 says:

        The ISS gets hit lots of times. It’s shielded against precisely those kinds of impacts. Its shields are designed to protect against a solid aluminium pellet over 1cm across at 7km/s. (Down to 0.3cm at 14km/s.) And hence larger, non-solid masses, like a washer.

        It can track and avoid anything over 10cm across, regardless of density. The danger zone is in between, between 2+cm solid Al equivalent masses below 10cm diameter.

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