Space garbage and debris has become a major issue for which, researchers at various space agencies are trying to find innovative ways to fix the issue. European Space Agency (ESA) recently developed a ‘harpooned’ spacecraft which is capable of capturing debris in the space and dispose of it accordingly. The spacecraft has already reached the International Space Station (ISS) on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft that was launched on April 02 which carried 3-odd tonnes of cargo to the ISS. Soon, astronauts will begin testing it out after unpacking it.
RemoveDEBRIS is the spacecraft developed by a number of companies together along with ESA which aims to fix the current situation of space debris since a lot of stuff has accumulated lately. According to a rough estimate, there are over half a million pieces of garbage floating in the space that includes tiny pieces such as chips of paint, screws, gloves, and even defunct satellites, probes, and other objects ever sent to the space. All these objects weighing over 7,000 tonnes is traveling at a velocity of 27,000 km/h which can cause detrimental effects on the satellites that are currently functioning.
The spacecraft is made keeping its simplicity in mind. It is a test spacecraft with a 30cm or 1 foot long ‘harpoon’ that will be shot towards the space object in order to push it away from causing any harm to the working satellites as well as the ISS. Weighing at 100-kilogram, the spacecraft is equipped with series of instruments including a 30cm long harpoon as aforementioned. It also has a net that can be shot towards the object to capture it in the space. Then, the spacecraft has systems such as LIDAR and sail that will help it re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Per the updates, the spacecraft reached the ISS on April 05 early morning where it will be removed from its packing. The astronauts will then start conducting preliminary tests on the spacecraft in order to contemplate if it has suffered from any damage or not during the launch and flight. Once all the preliminary test are complete, the spacecraft will be sent towards the Japanese Kibo Lab airlock from where, a robotic arm at the Japanese module will take it outside the ISS. The robotic arm will ensure that the spacecraft is deployed at the right time and velocity so that it is far from the ISS failing which, it can cause serious effects on the ISS. Once the satellite is deployed, it will stay dormant for few days and then, the boot up procedure will be initiated.
Once it starts working, there are basically three tests that it will perform. Firstly, a net will be fired at a dummy satellite or a defunct object in the space to test it. Then, the spacecraft will be instructed to locate a CubeSat which are small satellites confined in a 10x10x10 cm cube. The third test will be based on its capacity to shot and capture objects it’s 1-foot long harpoon that will be fired towards a dummy target to test it. Once it has performed all its functions successfully, the spacecraft will use its sail to enter back into the Earth’s atmosphere. The sail will increase drag, reduce its speed and accelerate its rate or burning upon re-entry.
The main aim towards launching this spacecraft into the space is to initiate the campaign towards cleaning the space debris as well as to assert that it is not too expensive to clean up the mess created over few decades. The astronauts are expected to start testing the spacecraft in few weeks.