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Space harpoon successfully captures floating debris

18 February 2019

The harpoon was fired on 8 February 2018 at a speed of 20 metres per second and penetrated a target made of satellite panel material.

The photo shows the harpoon target bottom left, with the onboard camera to the right.  The spherical structure in the centre with the white cover is the net housing. (Credit: SSTL)

The harpoon and 1.5 metre target boom were designed by a team at Airbus in Stevenage UK. The photo shows the harpoon target bottom left, with the on-board camera to the right.  The spherical structure in the centre with the white cover is the net housing. 

The success of the harpoon firing marks the third successful experiment for the RemoveDEBRIS project which has already demonstrated a net capture experiment and trialled its LiDAR based vision navigation system to identify a target cubesat.

The RemoveDEBRIS satellite platform was designed and manufactured by SSTL to house two target cubesats and four debris removal technologies – a net, a harpoon, vision based navigation using cameras and LiDaR, and a de-orbit dragsail. The spacecraft is operated in orbit by SSTL's engineers from our Spacecraft Operations Centre in Guildford. 

TheRemoveDEBRIS team is now preparing for the final experiment, which is set to take place in March and sees RemoveDEBRIS inflate a sail that will drag the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere where it will be destroyed. 

The US Space Surveillance Network tracks 40,000 objects and it is estimated that there are more than 7,600 tonnes of ‘space junk’ in and around Earth’s orbit – with some moving faster than a speeding bullet, approaching speeds of 30,000mph.


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