A satellite designed to test experimental methods of dealing with space junk has successfully harpooned a target while orbiting Earth. The test follows another performed in September last year that utilised a net to capture a target cubesat.
The RemoveDEBRIS satellite was designed and built by Surrey Satellite Technology LTD (SSTL), a subsidiary of Airbus based in the United Kingdom. The satellite was launched aboard a Falcon 9 in April 2018 from Cape Canaveral. In addition to carrying a net to capture objects, the satellite is equipped with a barbed harpoon approximately the size of a pen.
On February 8, 2019, the harpoon was fired at a speed of 20 meters a second at a dummy target attached to the end of a 1.5-meter boom extended from the satellite. The harpoon successfully pierced the target with the impact snapping the support boom.
It is unclear whether or not researchers had planned or even expected the boom to snap as it did. Thankfully, the harpoon was tethered to the satellite via a steel cable ensuring the target did not add to the ever-growing field of space junk orbiting Earth.
Following the success of both the net and harpoon payloads, the RemoveDEBRIS team at SSTL are preparing to conduct the mission’s final experiment. The experiment, which is currently scheduled for March will test a sail designed to drag the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere where it will be destroyed. In the future, this technology will be used to dispose of objects once they have been captured.