In a first, a net was able to track down its target in space.
RemoveDEBRIS, based out of the University of Surrey and funded by a variety of partners including the European Commission and Airbus, has had the goal of finding a low-priced space junk removal system for years.
This debris poses a hazard not only to the International Space Station and its crew, but to the Hubble Space Telescope and other satellites. On September 16th, the group began to proceed with in-space testing.
The RemoveDEBRIS satellite from the University of Surrey used an on-board net, which expanded like a web to snare the a simulated flotsam. Then from a distance of seven meters, the satellite network has released a width of five meters to capture this object, simulate space debris.
"While it might sound like a simple idea, the complexity of using a net in space to capture a piece of debris took many years of planning, engineering and coordination between the Surrey Space Centre, Airbus and our partners - but there is more work to be done", said Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Surrey Space Centre. The experiment was conducted in a very low orbit, so the dummy satellite should fall out of the sky within a few months and plummet to its grave.
In the British-led experiment, a large net was cast from a mini satellite, or microsatellite, attached to the International Space Station on Sunday. Thousands are expected to launch in the coming years.
There are over 500,000 pieces of trash now orbiting Earth. "After you grab something with a net, you want to tow your piece of debris down to bury it in the atmosphere", says Aglietti, speaking to The Verge. The net successfully wrapped around its target, an inflated structure that had just been deployed as part of the test. It was part of a series of trials that will showcase different technologies to remove the redundant hardware also known as space junk now circling the Earth.
There's more than one way to get rid of space junk, of course.