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article imageRemoveDEBRIS satellite to begin tests in collecting space junk

By Karen Graham     Jun 23, 2018 in Technology
The RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft which will demonstrate a range of innovative technologies to clean up space debris has now been deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) and will soon begin its experiments in orbit.
RemoveDEBRIS, along with an international science package that will study powerful lightning from space – Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM), was sent to the ISS via the SpaceX CRS-14 launch in early April this year.
Astronauts aboard the ISS deployed the 100 kilograms (220 pounds) RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft on its maiden mission using Canadarm2, the 17.6-meter-long (57.7 feet) robotic arm used for servicing and capturing cargo ships.
The RemoveDEBRIS drifted away from the orbital outpost at about 11:30 p.m. BST (7:30 am EDT) on Wednesday, June 20, according to
RemoveDEBRIS platform
RemoveDEBRIS platform
NanoRacks, the Houston-based company coordinating RemoveDebris' deployment says the RemoveDebris is the largest payload to be deployed from ISS. About two hours later, University of Surrey engineers confirmed they had contacted the spacecraft.
A consortium of leading space companies and research institutions, led by the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, UK. designed, built and manufactured the satellite. The spacecraft is equipped with optical sensing instruments and a redundant capture mechanism.
Sir Martin Sweeting, Chief Executive of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, commented: “SSTL’s expertise in designing and building low cost, small satellite missions has been fundamental to the success of RemoveDEBRIS, a landmark technology demonstrator for Active Debris Removal missions that will begin a new era of space junk clearance in Earth’s orbit.”
Why the experiment is important
The world is currently tracking about 18,000 objects orbiting the Earth, but only 1,100 are functioning spacecraft. Additionally, there are an estimated 750,000 more pieces of debris floating around, any of which could cause serious damage to a manned spacecraft.
Dextre  the Canadian Space Agency’s robotic handyman aboard the International Space Station (ISS) ...
Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency’s robotic handyman aboard the International Space Station (ISS), can be seen at the right. At left is the Canadarm2. Photo taken in December 2011 by an Expedition 26 crewmember.
"The experiment is important as there are thousands of pieces of space debris circulating the planet, many traveling faster than a speeding bullet, posing a risk to valuable satellites and even the International Space Station itself," said a UK Space Agency spokesperson, according to
And just last week, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive-3, ordering the Commerce Department to create a public database of space objects, a vision first outlined in April by Vice President Mike Pence.
The RemoveDEBRIS mission
During the experiment, the RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft will release a small "target" satellite into space and then will use a net to recapture it. It will also fire a small harpoon at a target plate to see if the technology can accurately work in the weightless environment.
And if all goes well, there will be additional tests, including a vision-based navigation system that uses cameras and LiDaR technology to observe CubeSats that will be released from the main spacecraft. Finally, when all the experiments are finished, the craft will deploy a large sail that will drag it into the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will be destroyed.
At the moment, ground controllers will be spending the next two months switching on all the satellite's subsystems and checking that they work as designed, according to Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey and principal investigator of the European Union-funded, 5.2-million-euro ($18.7 million) mission.
"We expect to start with the experiments at some point in September," Aglietti told "We will need three to four weeks for each experiment. That's because we want to capture a high-definition video of each experiment, and to have a nice video, you need to wait for the spacecraft to be in the right position and to have the right illumination."
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