First Space Junk Removal Experiment Reaches International Space Station

Recently, SpaceX launched the Dragon spacecraft and aboard it is the first junk space removal experiment. Dubbed RemoveDEBRIS, scientists from the University of Surrey Space Center in the U.K. created the space junk collector to run a series of experiment in the coming months. RemoveDEBRIS’s task is to capture and destroy some of the space junks floating in space.

As of date, the estimated number of debris floating space around the orbit of Earth is more than 500, 000 pieces. All of this debris travel fast enough to cause a serious damage to any spacecraft that may end up in their way, unfortunately. Many scientists gave interesting solutions for cleanup of some of the dangerous debris.

However, none of these ideas has ever been tried in space yet until RemoveDEBRIS. After SpaceX’s Dragon landed at ISS, the station’s crew started unloading the spacecraft’s cargo including the experiment. RemoveDEBRIS is a 100-kilogram (around 220 pounds) space junk collector, which is only around a washing machine's size.

Soon, the craft will be transferred to the airlock of the Japanese Kibo lab. By end of May or early in June, RemoveDEBRIS will be transferred out into space through a robotic arm. When finally ready, this satellite will be the biggest that ISS has ever launched. When it becomes operational, it will be running three tests while out in space.

When RemoveDEBRIS is finally in space, it will try to take a dummy piece of space junk using a net. Next, it will use close-up ranging lasers as well as navigation technology to try to track a CubeSat. This is to try if it can pursue a target piece of debris. The last test involves firing a harpoon attached to the satellite's arm at a test target.

If all tests’ go well, it will prove that this simple technology that was used on sea creatures can also be used to get rid of the junks orbiting Earth and threatening spacecraft. The main goal of the experiment is to prove that it does not have to be overly costly to clean up Earth’s orbit of space junks. The fact is removing space debris highly depends on funding.

While scientists all agree that it is great to begin removing the big pieces of junks in space, the funding becomes a problem. If the cost of removing space debris ends up extreme, most simply takes the risk of their satellites getting hit. If RemoveDEBRIS becomes successful, it would prove a low-cost method of removing debris, which will now be more likely to occur.