News

Fishing for space junk


 
 
27 March 2015
 
In 1957, Sputnik became the first artificial satellite to successfully reach space. Since then, thousands of satellites have been launched. These satellites surrounding our planet today have given us the ability to find our way home from anywhere, speak to people across the world anytime, monitor the disappearing forests and ice caps, and even predict natural disasters.

But the age of satellites has also filled the space around Earth with large chunks of inert metal. An estimated 30,000 large pieces of space trash circle the planet. This includes everything from retired satellites, discarded bits of rockets and even astronaut gloves. This number is only rising!

There are also millions of pieces of smaller debris such as nuts, bolts, and even flecks of paint. Many of them are travelling around the planet at 7km per second. At that speed, a fleck of paint could have the same impact as a motorbike traveling at 95 km per hour!
 
 
Paxi nets ESA's Clean Space team
   
Paxi nets ESA's Clean Space team
 
An impact like this would damage any satellite or space station and create new pieces of dangerous debris. So ESA has put some of its greatest minds to work to figure out a solution to this messy problem. Well, they might just have found the perfect answer, using one of humanity’s oldest technologies – the fishing net.

Using specially designed nets fired from spacecraft, we’ll be able to catch dead satellites and bring them down. The brilliant idea is currently undergoing tests in zero gravity, and if all goes well ESAs mission ‘e.Deorbit’ will launch in 2021 and we can snag ourselves some satellites!

Cool Fact: To stay in space and avoid plummeting back to Earth a satellite has to orbit our planet at more than 28, 200 kilometres per hour!
 
 


More information

 •  Space junk (http://www.esa.int/esaKIDSen/SEMESIXJD1E_Technology_0.html)