A spacecraft that will demonstrate a range of innovative technologies to clean up space debris has now been deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) and will soon begin its experiments in orbit.
RemoveDEBRIS, one of the world’s first attempts to address the build-up of dangerous space debris orbiting Earth, was sent to the ISS via the SpaceX CRS-14 launch in early April. The satellite was designed, built and manufactured by a consortium of leading space companies and research institutions, led by the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey. The project is co-funded by the European Commission.
The RemoveDEBRIS mission will perform four experiments, including the first harpoon capture in orbit and a net that will be used on a deployed target. The team will also test a vision-based navigation system that uses cameras and LiDaR technology to observe CubeSats that will be released from the main spacecraft. Finally, the RemoveDEBRIS craft will deploy a large sail that will drag it into the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will be destroyed.
Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey and Principal Investigator for the mission, said: “After almost five years of development, it is exciting to finally be in a position where we can test these technologies in the field. If successful, the technologies found in RemoveDEBRIS could be included in other missions in the very near future.”
Sir Martin Sweeting, Chief Executive of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), commented: “SSTL’s expertise in designing and building low cost, small satellite missions has been fundamental to the success of RemoveDEBRIS, a landmark technology demonstrator for Active Debris Removal missions that will begin a new era of space junk clearance in Earth’s orbit.”
This ISS satellite deployment opportunity was made possible thanks to NanoRacks and its Space Act Agreement with NASA’s U.S. National Labs.
The consortium consists of:
Mission and Consortium coordination – Surrey Space Centre (UK)
Satellite system engineering – ASF (France)
Platform and Avionics – SSTL (UK)
Harpoon – Airbus (UK)
Net – Airbus (Germany)
Vision Based Navigation – CSEM (Switzerland)/ INRIA/ Airbus (Toulouse)
CubeSat dispensers – Innovative solutions in space (Holland)
Target CubeSats – Surrey Space Centre (UK)/ STE
Dragsail – Surrey Space Centre (UK)
The project is co-funded by the European Commission and the research learning to the results have received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Program (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement #607099.