Harpoon technology backed to clean up space debris
The harpoon system will have to identify and home in on a target before reeling it in and steering it down into a controlled burn-up
The humble harpoon will be used to snare dangerous space debris as the European Space Agency (Esa) attempts to clear up Earth’s orbit.
A halo of space junk circling the Earth, left by decades of launches, is threatening working missions with catastrophic collision, and Esa’s Clean Space project has investigated numerous options to clear up the mess including nets, clamping systems and robotic arms.
But the agency has decided to back a tethered harpoon based system after promising initial investigations by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK, and has invited tenders to build and test a prototype of the concept.
Esa is hopeful of adopting the concept for its e.DeOrbit mission in 2021, which will see a space vehicle use sophisticated sensors and autonomous control to identify and home in on a target – potentially of several tonnes and tumbling uncontrollably – and reel it in and steer it down into a controlled burn-up in the atmosphere.
More than 17,000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup are known to be circling the Earth, posing a serious threat to space missions and even a one centimetre-wide nut could slam into a valuable satellite with the force of a hand grenade.
The only way to control the debris cloud across crucial lower orbits is to remove large items such as derelict satellites and rocket upper stages before they are involved in a collision or explode due to leftover fuel or partially charged batteries heated up by sunlight.
Harpoons rely on three physical actions to ensure safe and clean grasping: a high-energy impact into the target, piercing the structure and then reeling it in.
In the Airbus research a prototype harpoon was shot into representative satellite material to assess its penetration, its strength as the target is pulled close and the generation of additional fragments that might threaten the e.DeOrbit satellite.
As a next step, ESA plans to build and test a prototype by investigating all three stages of harpooning through computer models, analysis and experiments, leading to a full hardware demonstration.
"Immigration is no longer the elephant in the room. These days, everyone is talking about it. They are just not saying all the right things."
- Hybrid connected system a step forward for quantum computing
- Tactile internet: 5G and the Cloud on steroids
- Type 1 diabetes device is 'step towards artificial pancreas'
- £20m to get UK rid of polluting cabs
- Facebook’s secret drone test flight in the UK
- Big Data giving retailers greater customer insights
- Test [06:22 pm 20/03/15]
- Test [06:20 pm 20/03/15]
- What to Specialise in Electronics Engineering?? [03:02 am 03/04/14]
- Britain to have just one remaining coal pit by the end of 2015 [01:11 am 03/04/14]
- LV Generator Star point earthing - UK [08:35 pm 02/04/14]
The essential source of engineering products and suppliers.