Airbus plans on using a giant harpoon to bring down a satellite from space

Garbage and junk is not just a problem on the earth, it is also proving to be a really disturbing issue in space too.  Junk in orbit around the Earth is becoming a bigger problem every year. Space agencies are tracking almost 7,000 tons of debris, adding up to more than 20,000 pieces larger than 10 centimeters. This is indeed a very big problem.

Airbus plans on using a giant harpoon to bring down a satellite from space

So institutions and individuals decided to do something about it. European space agencies and private companies, in a joint effort called RemoveDebris, plan to test a variety of different possible solutions next month with a satellite launched aboard a SpaceX rocket to the International Space Station.

So of course, a lot of crazy ideas are being considered, with a particularly interesting one from Airbus. Airbus target is the biggest hunk of junk in orbit. The Envisat. This is the largest Earth observation satellite ever launched, weighing more than eight tons. The company wants to corral the floating behemoth with a giant space harpoon, and then drag it down into the atmosphere, where it will burn up on reentry.

Airbus plans on using a giant harpoon to bring down a satellite from space

And plans are already underway. According to the BBC, the harpoon is currently being developed in England, and a small prototype will be tested during next month’s RemoveDebris mission. “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 project engineer Alastair Wayman. 

A short history on the Envisat, is that it was launched in 2002, was a state-of-the-art observation platform bristling with instrumentation including imaging radar, spectrometers, and atmospheric sensors. The European Space Agency (ESA) unexpectedly lost contact with the satellite in 2012. Despite numerous attempts to resurrect it, the mission was declared officially dead shortly thereafter.

 A quick thing to note is that the relative simplicity of the harpoon is what appeals to engineers. “Many of these targets will be tumbling and if you were to use a robotic arm, say, that involves a lot of quite complex motions to follow your target,” Wayman explained. “Whereas, with the harpoon, all you have to do is sit a distance away, wait for the target to rotate underneath you, and at the right moment fire your harpoon.”

So yeah, hopefully, we should be able to shoot down rogue satellites from space.

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