Decades of satellite launches and missions have left the Earth’s orbit filled with pieces of junk such as fuel tanks, lost tools and parts of derelict satellites and now space junk has become a major problem for the world -and its space agencies. Now NASA and the ESA are looking at several ways to deal with it. One proposed idea from Astrium UK is to develop a system to harpoon rogue or redundant satellites and pull them out of the sky
The system would see the harpoon fired at any potentially threatening satellite from close range. A propulsion pack tethered to the projectile would then pull the junk downwards, to burn up in the atmosphere.
“Space has become a critical part of our infrastructure – from weather forecasting and Earth observation, to GPS and telecommunications.” Said designer Dr Jaime Reed, from Astrium UK
The harpoon system comprises of a barbed spear about 30cm in length, which is mounted on a “chaser satellite” that would edge to within 100m of a junk object. Once the harpoon is hooked through the skin of the rogue satellite, thrusters would fire dragging it back into the atmosphere.
“If you’ve watched James Bond films over the years, you know that anything with a harpoon, with a laser, with a net in space has the potential to grab another spacecraft and destroy it. So, we need to build reassurance within the space community and demonstrate that the systems being proposed are peaceful in their nature but also peaceful in the intent and the way in which they are going to be used.” Prof Richard Crowther, of the UK Space Agency’s chief engineer said.