Today’s Solutions: April 19, 2024

From large rocket parts to tiny shards of metal from accidental collisions and explosions, space junk is becoming increasingly problematic. As these pieces of debris fly around at about 18,000 mph, they pose a real safety risk to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station and could cause serious damage to other functioning spacecraft in orbit, like weather forecasting and GPS systems.

In an effort to clean up the more than 8,000 metric tons of human-generated orbital debris, a team of scientists is testing new technology that could help capture space junk.

The new mission, called the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale (ELSA), involves a spacecraft that will attempt to attach itself to dead satellites and push them toward Earth where they would burn up in the atmosphere.

As explained by Astroscale, the Japanese company behind the project, the mission will be carried out by a “servicer satellite” and a “client satellite” which launched together this week from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. As part of the experiment, the servicer will use magnetic docking technology to release and then try to catch the client, which serves as a mock piece of space debris. The trial will simulate how the servicer could capture actual space junk in the near future.

Manned by a team in the UK, the process of catch and release will be repeated multiple times over the course of six months and aims to demonstrate that the servicer satellite is able to track down and dock with its target in a variety of situations.

Image source: Astroscale

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