A British satellite, designed to clean up debris in space, just successfully captured a simulated piece of junk in its orbit using a big net. The satellite is named RemoveDEBRIS and made its first leap on September 16th. It deployed its net and captured a self-released target probe. Nets have been used to clean the likes of swimming pools for a long time now. But who could’ve guessed they’re just as effective at cleaning out space junk. The satellite will try out various different methods to clean up space junk. This should help us get a clearer idea about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to clearing out space debris.

Space junk has been a problem ever since we started launching rockets into orbit. Although natural space debris like rocks has always existed in the earth’s orbit, but man-made debris is catching up real fast. Decommissioned or broken satellites, used-up launch vehicles, and various other pieces of debris that have come off of spacecraft, all add to the problem. As if having junk revolving around the earth wasn’t enough, it travels with speeds of up to 17,000 miles an hour. If a piece of space trash traveling this fast hits a spacecraft, that’s a lot of trouble.


However, the RemoveDEBRIS satellite is meant to test out much more low-key means of space debris removal. Along with experimenting with a deployable net, the satellite is also equipped with a harpoon. It can spear objects, as well as a drag sail that can help slow down debris and make them fall to Earth faster. The plan is to see if these technologies can even work.

RemoveDEBRIS launched to the International Space Station in April, on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. In June, the satellite was deployed into space. It’s remained in orbit since then, and this weekend it started the first phase of its experiments.

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