Innovation

There’s now a giant net collecting garbage in space and it’s as cool as it sounds.

by Leo Shvedsky

September 23, 2018

Planet Earth already has its plate full with challenges of how to reduce the amount of manmade waste polluting our environment.

Unfortunately, our uncanny ability to make a mess isn’t limited to this planet. “Space junk,” aka debris left behind from satellites, rockets and other projects, is a growing problem in Earth’s orbit.

If you’ve seen the film “Gravity” you have an idea of just how problematic, and even deadly, just a small amount of space debris can be when it accelerates to incredible speeds in our planet’s orbit. That junk poses a very real threat to the International Space Station, the Hubble Telescope and other projects.

As NASA recently wrote: “A huge amount of debris has progressively been generated since the beginning of the space era. Most of the objects launched into space are still orbiting the Earth and today these objects and their by-products represent a threat both in space and on Earth.”

So, a British team from the University of Surrey just successfully tested a net that shoots out to capture floating debris. It’s as cool as it sounds as here’s some black and white video showing it in all of its glory:

“This is not sci-fi. We repeat, not sci-fi,” read a tweet from NanoRacks, a Texas-based company that helped develop the net deployer.

The incredible new project works by using 3D mapping and, yes, an actual harpoon to target space debris and capture it. For this test, the team sent out their own bit of debris, which ironically ended up moving faster than expected but also therefore showed how effective the process can be.

But what’s the point of ensnaring space junk if there’s no way to bring it back in?

Well, the test showed that the ensnared debris, along with the net itself, will eventually fall into the Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up before it can do any damage to those in space, or back down on Earth below.

“We are absolutely delighted with the outcome of the net technology,” said Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Surrey Space Centre. “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. These are very exciting times for us all.”

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There’s now a giant net collecting garbage in space and it’s as cool as it sounds.