Some 29,000 pieces of space debris larger than four inches in diameter are known to orbit Earth, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). The number of smaller particles reaches well into the hundred-millions. Every time a satellite explodes or some debris collides with another, that figure grows in a domino effect that may one day lead to a scenario known as the Kessler syndrome, in which debris is so prolific that orbit becomes unfeasible.
ESA is intent on addressing this problem by actively removing large objects of debris from orbit through an initiative called Clean Space. The initiative’s first mission, e.Deorbit, will involve using either a net or a robotic arm to capture one of ESA’s derelict satellites in low orbit and burn it up in an atmospheric reentry.
The agency has just revealed a net gun designed for the e.Deorbit mission by Polish company SKA Polka. A small version of the gun has been tested on a parabolic flight that simulates microgravity and has proven to be affective against low-flying aerial drones at ESA’s Industry Days event in May.
Projected to launch in 2023, Clean Space’s e.Deorbit mission will mark the first proactive effort to safely remove debris from space – a task that will only become more essential in the years to come.
- Check out the 33 Raptor engines on SpaceX’s next-gen rocket
- Fleet of tiny robots could one day explore subsurface oceans on icy worlds
- NASA’s next-generation rocket returns to assembly building today
- Just one instrument mode left and the James Webb Telescope will be ready for science
- NASA’s Lucy spacecraft has almost completely deployed its stuck array