Space Debris Current Affairs

RemoveDEBRIS: First satellite to demonstrate technology to clean up space junk deployed

The first satellite named RemoveDEBRIS was successfully deployed from International Space Station (ISS) and to demonstrate a range of innovative technologies to clean up space debris orbiting Earth. It was transported to ISS via SpaceX CRS-14 launch in early April 2018. The satellite was designed, built and manufactured by consortium of space companies and research institutions led by Surrey Space Centre at University of Surrey, United Kingdom. The project is co-funded by European Commission.

RemoveDEBRIS Mission

RemoveDEBRIS mission is aimed at performing key Active Debris Removal (ADR) technology demonstrations (e.g capture, deorbiting) representative of operational scenario during low-cost mission using novel key technologies for ADR. The mission plans is to test efficacy of several ADR technologies on mock targets in low Earth orbit (LEO), rather than engaging in ADR of real space debris.

The mission will comprise of main satellite platform that once in orbit will deploy two CubeSats as artificial debris targets to demonstrate four methods for release, capture and deorbit two space debris targets, called DebriSATs. These four methods are

  • Net capture: It involves net that will be deployed at target CubeSat.
  • Harpoon Capture: It will be launched at target plate made of representative satellite panel materials.
  • Vision-based navigation: It will send data about debris back to the ground for processing using cameras and LiDAR (light detection and ranging).
  • De-orbiting process: The spacecraft after entering Earth’s atmosphere during de-orbiting process will burn up, leaving no debris behind.

Background

More than 5 decades of human space exploration since first Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957 has produced hazardous belt of orbiting space debris. There are estimated to be more than 100 million pieces of space debris circling our planet in lower orbit, posing growing threat to future space exploration. These pieces of debris travel at high speeds. A relatively small piece of orbital debris can inflict a great deal of damage on satellites or spacecrafts orbiting in the space. This phenomenon is Kessler Syndrome which describes a self-sustaining cascading collision of space debris in LEO may render space eventually inoperable for important space services like navigation, weather forecasting, communications etc.

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Japan successfully launches space junk collector into orbit

Japan’s space agency (JAXA) successfully launched a Kounotori 6 (HTV-6) spacecraft that will deliver a large magnetic tether, a space junk collector technology into orbit.

The spacecraft was launched on board of H-IIB rocket from Tanegashima Space Center.  It was also carrying essential supplies for International Space Station (ISS).

Key Facts
  • The space junk collector (electromagnetic tether) will perform Kounotori Integrated Tether Experiments (KITE) in order to test out new technology.
  • It is an experimental space scavenger that aims to study possibility of getting rid of space junk (debris) left into orbit by earlier space exploration missions.
  • It has been designed by JAXA engineers in collaboration with Nitto Seimo Co., a Japanese fishing net company.
  • The space scavenger is large magnetic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminium. It is designed to redirect space junk towards Earth’s atmosphere.
  • In theory, the net-like tether will generate enough slowing effect to influence the trajectory of space debris toward Earth’s atmosphere where they will burn up.
Why there is need of space junk collector technology?

More than 5 decades of human space exploration since the first Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite in 1957 has produced this hazardous belt of orbiting debris in the space. There are estimated to be more than 100 million pieces are circling our planet in the lower orbit, posing a growing threat to future space exploration. These pieces of debris travel at high speeds. A relatively small piece of orbital debris can inflict a great deal of damage on satellites or spacecrafts orbiting in the space. This phenomenon is Kessler Syndrome which describes a self-sustaining cascading collision of space debris in low earth Orbit.

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