Lasers learn to accurately spot space junk  December 24, 2019 Scientists have developed space junk identification systems, but it has proven tricky to pinpoint the swift, small specks of space litter. Researchers in China trained a back propagation neural network to recognize space debris using two correcting algorithms. The Genetic Algorithm and Levenberg-Marquardt optimized the neural network’s thresholds for recognition of space debris, ensuring the network wasn’t too sensitive and could be trained on localized areas of space. The team demonstrated the improved accuracy by testing against three traditional methods. The observation data of 95 stars was used to solve the algorithm coefficients from each method, […]

A deorbit kit for satellites based on low work-function tethers  June 12, 2019 A European research project, called E.T.PACK, is developing a new system for deorbiting space satellites without using on board power and fuel using low work-function tether. It consists of 50 microns thick, 2 cm wide aluminum that is several kilometers in length. It would be rolled up in a reel during the launch of the satellite. Aluminum must have the ability to emit electrons when it is heated. The tether transforms orbital energy into electrical energy while it deorbits the satellite without using any type of fuel. It uses natural resources in the space environment, such […]

Watch a harpoon successfully spear a piece of space junk

MIT Technology Review  February 15, 2019 Right now there are more than 7,600 tons of space junk floating around our planet. Researchers in the UK created a satellite called the RemoveDEBRIS which fired a harpoon at 20 meters a second at a separate satellite panel that it was holding at the end of a boom. The harpoon succeeded in stabbing and capturing the item. Last year the team also “accurately fired a giant net” at a satellite to capture it and tested out a lidar- and camera-based system for identifying space junk. The final test by RemoveDEBRIS in March […]

Why space debris cleanup might be a national security threat   November 13, 2018 From the 23,000 pieces of debris in Earth orbit that are larger than 5-10 centimeters that we can track and catalog, to the hundreds of millions that we cannot, there is little question that both big and small objects whizzing around at lethal speeds endanger the prospects for civilian, commercial and military missions in outer space. Both the old and new space powers can easily cloak their military intentions in legitimate concerns about, and possibly commercial solutions to, debris hazards. And there are now a number of open assessments about space junk removal technologies  that can […]

Plasma thruster: New space debris removal technology  September 28, 2018 Ejecting plasma beam from the satellite to impart a force to the debris to decelerate it so that it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere and burning up naturally, accelerates the satellite in the opposite direction, which makes it difficult to maintain a consistent distance between debris and the satellite. An international team of researchers (Japan, Australia) demonstrated that the bi-directional ejection of plasma plumes from a helicon plasma thruster can yield the space debris removal operation using a single propulsion system. In laboratory experiments, the plasma thruster was precisely controlled with a magnetic field and gas injection. […]

A satellite with a harpoon, net and drag sail to capture space junk is in orbit and will be tested soon  June 29, 2018 NASA is experimenting with the RemoveDebris spacecraft deployed from the ISS, to conduct a series of active debris removal (ADR) technology demonstrations starting in September 2018. Two CubeSats are launched as artificial debris targets to demonstrate some of the technologies. First CubeSat will inflate its onboard balloon to simulate a larger piece of junk. The RemoveDebris spacecraft will then deploy its net to capture it, then guide it into the Earth’s atmosphere where the net will be released. The second CubeSat will be used to test the mothership’s tracking and ranging lasers, its algorithms, and its […]