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Scientists hope harpoons can skewer area junk disaster

STEVENAGE, England (Reuters) – A European satellite tv for pc launched this week to check out methods of tackling the rising quantity of rubbish in area will use expertise as acquainted to the traditional Romans as astronauts – nets and harpoons.

A small harpoon system, similar to the one in area now on the RemoveDebris satellite tv for pc, is seen on the European Space Agency undertaking in Stevenage, Britain, April four, 2018. Picture taken April four, 2018. REUTERS/Stuart McDill

Engineers who have designed and created harpoons for 2 pioneering area particles clearing initiatives mentioned the attraction of such time-tested ideas was their simplicity.

“The irony is not lost on us,” mentioned Alastair Wayman, a sophisticated initiatives engineer at Airbus Space within the southern English city of Stevenage.

“This is a really nice, simple piece of technology but what we’ve done is we’ve updated it for use in space and the beauty of this system is in its simplicity,” he informed Reuters.

Alastair Wayman, Advanced Projects Engineer at Airbus Space, examines the tip of a giant harpoon after a take a look at firing right into a simulated part of satellite tv for pc as a part of an European Space Agency undertaking in Stevenage, Britain, April four, 2018. Picture taken April four, 2018. REUTERS/Stuart McDill

The RemoveDebris satellite tv for pc is carrying quite a lot of totally different gadgets designed to assist clear the large quantity of particles orbiting the earth. It has already docked with the International Space Station and the checks are anticipated to start within the subsequent few weeks.

“All we have to do is sit away from our target spacecraft, fire our harpoon towards it and then once it’s impacted we’ve captured our piece of space debris,” mentioned Wayman.

A small harpoon system, similar to the one in area now on the RemoveDebris satellite tv for pc, is seen on the European Space Agency undertaking in Stevenage, Britain, April four, 2018. Picture taken April four, 2018. REUTERS/Stuart McDill

One of the harpoons is round 30 cm (one foot) lengthy, and is designed to fireplace at a goal on an arm round 20 metres (65 ft) away, earlier than reeling it again in on a rope.

A bigger harpoon, round 1.5 metres-long and weighing 2.2 kg (5 lb) can be being designed within the lab, as a part of the European Space Agency’s Clean Space programme. It goals to seize area junk targets weighing as much as eight tonnes (17,000 lb).

Scientists estimate as a lot as 7,000 tonnes of junk is orbiting the earth at speeds of as much as 27,000 km/h (17,000 mph) and it’s able to damaging satellites or spacecraft.

The particles ranges from tiny gadgets equivalent to screws or chips of paint to rocket sections or defunct satellites.

Other gadgets being examined on the RemoveDebris satellite tv for pc embody a web to catch particles, a light-based ranging system referred to as LIDAR, and a sail that can pull the craft again into earth’s ambiance the place it and the particles would expend harmlessly.

Reporting by Stuart McDill; Writing by Mark Hanrahan in London; enhancing by David Stamp


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