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A junk harpoon on a mission to clean up space

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#1 Crisp



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Posted 18 April 2013 - 16:13

A junk harpoon on a mission to clean up space

British engineers are developing a harpoon to clear up space junk, including defunct satellites and used rocket boosters threatening other satellites and astronauts on the International Space Station.

Having considered several different methods for grabbing and returning bits of orbital debris to Earth, engineers have settled on a solution right out of the pages of Moby-Dick.

Since the start of the space race, around 4,900 rocket launches have left more than 23,000 pieces of space junk in orbit. They include upper stages of rocket boosters, broken-down weather and communication satellites, and tools dropped by NASA astronauts on space-walks.

But with typical speeds of 25,000 kilometres an hour for most pieces of space debris, even small objects the size of nuts and bolts represent a major hazard to other satellites or even manned space missions.


"The harpoon has a great advantage in that it's simple," said Jaime Reed of Astrium UK, which is developing the technology."If we keep it simple and low cost we can capture lots of space junk in a single mission."

Until recently the threat from space junk was seen as largely theoretical. But in 2009, a disabled Russian weather satellite collided with an American telecommunications satellite worth tens of millions of pounds.

What is more, the collision itself created around 6,000 new pieces of debris.

"The 2009 collision really raised awareness in the community," said Mr Reed, pointing out that orbital space is a finite resource: "all that junk up there could damage operational satellites, so people are now beginning to think about cleaning up the environment to ensure future generations can use it for the everyday services that we rely on."


#2 Hum


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Posted 18 April 2013 - 22:36

Cool -- but my patented junk cleaner is way better. :p

#3 devn00b


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Posted 18 April 2013 - 22:45

Wouldn't harpooning an object create more small debris that you cant really harpoon, and that in turn would be a danger?

#4 Hum


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Posted 18 April 2013 - 23:31

^ They may eventually figure that out. :laugh:

#5 DocM


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Posted 18 April 2013 - 23:45

Altius Space Machines "Sticky Boom" uses electroadhesion to grab objects as small as a paint chip to as large as 20+ metric tons. Material doesn't matter.



#6 Growled


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Posted 19 April 2013 - 01:05

Now all we need is a Captain Ahab in outer space to do the deed.

#7 Torolol


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Posted 19 April 2013 - 04:52

damn, this cleaning would allow meteor routes unaffected so they wont crashes into earth.

#8 Tuishimi



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Posted 19 April 2013 - 05:47

We need a broad tractor / repulsor beam that can just sweep through the debris.

#9 soldier1st


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Posted 19 April 2013 - 05:55

Cool -- but my patented junk cleaner is way better. :p

Are you serious about the "Patented" part? if so prove it.

#10 FloatingFatMan


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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:09

We need a team like the one in the Planetes anime series. Space garbage men! :p

#11 Slugsie



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Posted 19 April 2013 - 12:40

I don't think the main problem is getting hold of the bits of junk, it's just getting to them. Especially if you plan to get to several in one mission - which would be necessary to be financially viable. If you just use the typical orbit of the ISS (402-424km above the Earth according to Wikipedia) that gives you a volume of space of roughly 260 Billion cubic kilometers (62 Billion cubic miles). 23,000 pieces of junk in that space is one piece of junk per 11 Million cubic kilometers! It's worse than that of course because the junk is spread much higher up. If you just consider Low Earth Orbit (up to around 2000km) that is an volume of 1.1 Trillion cubic kilometers, for a piece roughly once every 50 Million cubic kilometers.

When you look at those numbers, you start to understand how ridiculously difficult this task becomes.