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Space & Astronomy

Harpoon could drag satellites out of the sky

By T.K. Randall
March 16, 2018 · Comment icon 10 comments

Is de-orbiting defunct satellites a viable strategy ? Image Credit: US Air Force
Airbus has been developing a new type of harpoon in an effort to reduce the build-up of space junk in orbit.
Satellites and spacecraft are already running a daily gauntlet of spent rocket stages, screws, bolts and other objects that currently encircle our world. As time goes on, the problem will reach the point at which it will be too risky to send anything else up in to space due to the risk of a collision.

Now in a renewed bid to tackle the problem before it's too late, Airbus has come up with a new harpoon system designed to latch on to and drag defunct satellites out of orbit.

The harpoon, which will be mounted on a small interceptor spacecraft, has been developed with the goal of bringing down Europe's defunct 8-ton Envisat Earth observation platform.
"If we can design a harpoon that can cope with Envisat, then it should be able to cope with all other types of spacecraft including the many rocket upper-stages that remain in orbit," said Alastair Wayman, one of the engineers working on the project.

Ensuring that the harpoon is capable of successfully latching on to the 3cm-thick, composite honeycomb panels typically used in satellite construction is particularly important.

"The harpoon goes through these panels like a hot knife through butter," said Wayman. "Once the tip is inside, it has a set of barbs that open up and stop the harpoon from coming back out."

"We'd then de-tumble the satellite with a tether on the other end."



Source: BBC News | Comments (10)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Grandpa Greenman 6 years ago
That would be a fun job to have.  
Comment icon #2 Posted by RoofGardener 6 years ago
 WHITE WHALE....WHIIITEEE WHAAAALE... WHITE... oh.. wait.. no.. it's just a Mistubishi X1 communications relay satellite.  Ah well.  It should be noted that all Airbus have created is a pointy stick. They still need a "chase spaceship" (and a tether) before their Pointy Stick would actually DO anything. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by Grandpa Greenman 6 years ago
 
Comment icon #4 Posted by moonman 6 years ago
I thought they meant from the ground, that would be something. This, not so impressive.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Hankenhunter 6 years ago
So are they going to with the junk? Send it to earth? Collect everything into a giant orbiting scrap yard? Chuck it out into the void? Will they hire some guy named Ahab? These questions need answers. Hank
Comment icon #6 Posted by Merc14 6 years ago
Interesting how they soft soap what teh Chinese did a few years ago by making it sound like they were trying to deorbit a satellite.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 6 years ago
Funny, that's pretty much the excuse the USA used when they fired an anti-satellite missile at the failed USA-196 spy satellite in 2008. In 1985, when the USAF destroyed the Solwind satellite in orbit they didn't even bother inventing spurious excuses and just plain admitted it was a test of an anti-satellite weapon. China has done nothing that the USA and Soviet Union/Russia hadn't done already. That doesn't make it right but it does make the USA's complaints at the time a little hypocritical.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Merc14 6 years ago
Neither the USA nor Rusia was mentioned in the video and I very much doubt they would ever soft soap if they were.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Grandpa Greenman 6 years ago
As we deorbit all this junk, (which needs to be done)  how are all burned particulates going to affect the upper atmosphere?  Is there enough of it to have an effect?  
Comment icon #10 Posted by khol 6 years ago
What I dont get is how we can be so irresponsible in the first place ??  Isnt it a no brainer orbiting debris would create huge safety issues to our space programs and communication satellites ? Creating space junk of this magnitude is completely insane to begin with. Humans have complete disregard for any kind of enviorment..terrestrial or otherwise. Is it impossible not to create junk or could we have developed better methods ?  just nuts  


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