There are an estimated 21,000 pieces of debris larger than 10 centimeters (4 inches) orbiting Earth right now. It’s the mucky result of space exploration, with items such as abandoned spacecrafts, payload carriers, remnants from controlled explosions, debris from intentional spacecraft separations, and rocket motor waste floating around our planet.
Space is filthy – and it needs cleaning up.
Swiss researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland, may have the answer. These researchers have been developing ways to safely and efficiently monitor, collect and destroy satellites that aren’t in use anymore and aren’t heading back to Earth.
Announced on Monday (July 6), their latest project CleanSpace One sees a spacecraft possibly launching into low-Earth orbit to collect and destroy a small cubic satellite named SwissCube. The spacecraft uses a “Pac-Man” technique of deploying a net to capture the small satellite before destroying it in space, much like the Eighties video game character.
"The idea is to have the biggest aperture possible, to increase the chance to eat the cube while it's near the chaser," EPFL's Michel Lauria explains in the video below.
As the cube could rebound out after hitting the back of the chaser, the net has to close at exactly the right time. For the net to close at the optimum time, exact measurements of position and speed of any inbound objects are required.
In raising awareness of the very real need of debris disposal, the Swiss development team are hopeful that CleanSpace One will launch into space in 2018.
[H/T: NBC News]