The first spacecraft demonstrating active debris removal technologies – such as a harpoon, a net, and a tow – in orbit has been released to mission by the International Space Station.
Space Station astronauts sent the 100-kilogram RemoveDebris spacecraft for its groundbreaking mission with the 17-meter-long Canadarm2 robotic arm used to service and capture freighters.
According to NanoRacks, the Houston-based company that coordinated the use of RemoveDebris, the spacecraft is the largest payload used by the space station. The spacecraft left the orbital outpost at about 11:30. BST (7:30 am EDT) on Wednesday, June 20. [7 Ways to Clean Up Space Junk]
Engineers at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom confirmed about 2 hours later that they had contacted the spacecraft from their facilities in Guildford, Surrey, a small town in southern England.
The ground control station will spend the next two months turning on all subsystems of the satellite and checking that they work as planned, according to Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Center at the University of Surrey and principal investigator the European Union-funded mission of 5.2 million euros (18.7 million dollars).
"We expect to begin experimenting sometime in September," Aglietti told Space.com. "We'll need three to four weeks for each experiment, because we want to record a high definition video of each experiment, and to have a nice video, you have to wait until the spacecraft is in the right position the right lighting. "
The European giant Airbus has designed and built three of the four planned experiments aboard the spacecraft. The debris-catching network experiment developed in Bremen at the Airbus site will be carried out in October, the company said.
First, the main RemoveDestris spacecraft will release a small cubesat and drift it to a distance of about 5 to 7 meters (16 to 23 feet). Then the main spaceship will eject the net to catch the cubesat.
In December, RemoveDebris will test the vision-based navigation technology developed by Airbus in Toulouse, France. The technology will use a series of 2D cameras and 3D lidar technology to track a second cube sat if it is floating away from the main satellite.
The last of Airbus' three experiments will take place in February 2019. RemoveDebris fires a pod-sized harpoon into a panel triggered by the main spaceship attached to a tree.
Eventually, in March 2019, the RemoveDestris spacecraft will launch a tow designed by the Surrey Space Center that will accelerate the satellite's deorbitization process.
"The sail generates so much air resistance that the spacecraft slows down and its orbit decays much faster than without the sail," said Aglietti.
"We expect RemoveDebris to deorbit in less than 10 weeks," he said. "Without the sail, it could take 100 weeks or even longer."
Aglietti said he expected the space industry to closely observe the experiments. Space debris is a growing problem and the space agencies around the world agree that steps must be taken to tackle the problem. Using trawling would, according to Aglietti, reduce the time the decommissioned satellites are in orbit, thereby reducing the risk of collision with other spacecraft.
Active space depletion technologies such as harpoons and nets are also gaining importance. Even if everyone complied, it would still not be enough, experts say. Satomi Kawamoto of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said at a conference last year that more than 100 objects from LEO need to be removed at a rate of five per year to prevent the proliferation of fragments resulting from collisions in orbit. to stop explosions
"We have done many field tests, but this will be the first time that these technologies are tested in space," said Aglietti. "We can not 100 percent reproduce the situation in orbit on the ground, everything that happens during the mission will be a learning experience for us, and we will see for the first time how these technologies work in the space environment."  Did you pass this amazing video from #RemoveDEBRIS shortly after the mission yesterday, at @Space_Station ? With a mass of 100 kg, it is the largest satellite previously used by #ISS ! https://t.co/suqg2eDHmg
– Surrey Satellites (@SurreySat) 21 June 2018
The European Space Agency (ESA) originally considered using the harpoon and the net for their e.Deorbit mission, which will try to use Envisat, a bus-sized earth, to remove – observation satellite, which died in 2012. It is one of the largest and most dangerous pieces of space debris in low Earth orbit.
Later, however, the agency decided to use a robotic arm instead of a harpoon and a net because the arm can be used for orbital maintenance, said Luisa Innocenti, ESA's Clean Space Initiative leader, last year.
Aglietti, on the other hand, said he hopes that if the RemoveDebris experiments are successful, other players will take the technologies to the next level.
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