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RemoveDEBRIS: success for harpoon experiment

(15 February 2019 - SSTL) The harpoon was fired on 8th February 2018 at a speed of 20 metres per second and penetrated a target made of satellite panel material.

The harpoon and 1.5 metre target boom were designed by a team at Airbus in Stevenage UK. The photo below shows the harpoon target bottom left, with the onboard camera to the right. The spherical structure in the centre with the white cover is the net housing.

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(courtesy: SSTL)

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The target on its extended boom just after the harpoon impact (courtesy: SSTL)

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The target tumbling shortly after impact. The point of the harpoon can be seen to have penetrated the target (courtesy: SSTL)

The success of the harpoon firing marks the third successful experiment for the RemoveDEBRIS project which has already demonstrated a net capture experiment and trialled its state-of-the-art LiDAR based vision navigation system to identify a target cubesat.

The RemoveDEBRIS satellite platform was designed and manufactured by SSTL to house two target cubesats and four debris removal technologies - a net, a harpoon, vision based navigation using cameras and LiDaR, and a de-orbit dragsail. The spacecraft is operated in orbit by SSTL's engineers from our Spacecraft Operations Centre here in Guildford.

The RemoveDEBRIS team is now preparing for the final experiment, which is set to take place in March and sees RemoveDEBRIS inflate a sail that will drag the satellite into Earth’s atmosphere where it will be destroyed.

The US Space Surveillance Network tracks 40,000 objects and it is estimated that there are more than 7,600 tonnes of ‘space junk’ in and around Earth’s orbit - with some moving faster than a speeding bullet, approaching speeds of 30,000 miles per hour.

The RemoveDEBRIS consortium consists of:

  • Mission and consortium coordination – Surrey Space Centre (UK)
  • Satellite system engineering – ArianeGroup (France)
  • Platform, avionics and spacecraft operations – SSTL (UK)
  • Harpoon – Airbus (UK)
  • Net – Airbus (Germany)
  • Vision based navigation – CSEM (Switzerland)/ INRIA/ Airbus (France)
  • CubeSat dispensers – Innovative Solutions in Space (Netherlands)
  • Target CubeSats – Surrey Space Centre (UK)/ Stellenbosch University (South Africa)
  • Dragsail – Surrey Space Centre (UK)

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