The issue of orbiting space junk just above the earth’s atmosphere has long troubled scientists. For years, researchers have tried to develop prototypes of devices that could capture the waste so that it could be removed from orbit – and now, it seems that one of their designs has proven effective, at least to start with.
A massive tossed net has managed to gather the unsightly space debris in a demonstration of how humanity can start to clean up the many kilotons of junk suspended in our galaxy. In the British-led experiment, a humongous net was cast from a miniature satellite on Sunday.
Scientists waited with bated breath as the net successfully wrapped around its target – an inflated object that had been deployed into space to aid in the test and demonstration. The distance covered was almost six meters, and the target was successfully captured, as shown in a black and white video feed.
A Solution to a Growing Problem
Excitement soon arose around the successful experiment. Texas-based firm NanoRacks, who created the international space station’s micro-satellite deployer, was quick to tweet that the development ‘is not sci-fi’ - but can rather be attributed to the brilliant minds of those working to solve the planet’s trash crisis, both from the ground and beyond the stratosphere.
Guglielmo Aglietti from the University of Surrey has noted that the target was spinning faster than had been expected, which only made the test even more realistic. The objective, he revealed, was to demonstrate ways of removing space junk from orbit, which is currently littered with old parts of rockets and other spacecraft.
This debris, while it may appear less than problematic, actually poses dangers not only to the space station and its crew, but also to the Hubble Space Telescope and other important satellites orbiting the planet.
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166 Million Objects Litter Space
According to the European Space Agency, around 166 million man-made objects are currently floating their way through space. They range in size from one-millimeter pieces of debris to hefty objects the size of refrigerators or larger. It has also been proven that some of them move faster than speeding bullets do back on home soil, making them understandably hazardous.
The prototype net, which measures about five meters across, and its target will eventually fall out of the earth’s orbit together and burn up as they re-enter the atmosphere. In the meantime, another harpoon-like device is also set to be tested in February next year, according to Aglietti and his team.
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