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RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft launched from ISS
RemoveDEBRIS. © NASA

RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft launched from ISS

A space debris removal technology mission called RemoveDEBRIS, led by the Surrey Space Centre (SSC), has been launched into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS).

A space debris removal technology mission called RemoveDEBRIS, led by the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) at the University of Surrey, has been launched into orbit from the International Space Station (ISS). RemoveDEBRIS is intended to demonstrate a range of innovative technologies to clean up space debris, with the first Airbus-designed and -built experiment due for deployment in October 2018.

The spacecraft features three Airbus technologies to perform Active Debris Removal (ADR): a net and a harpoon to capture debris, and also a Vision Based Navigation (VBN) system to develop rendezvous techniques in orbit with space debris. The spacecraft itself was designed and built by Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) and also includes a drag sail to speed up deorbiting of the whole mission.

The net is due to be deployed in October, followed by the VBN test in late December and then the harpoon in February 2019. The experiments will all be carried out below the orbit of the ISS.

The net experiment, developed by Airbus in Bremen, will see a cubesat deployed from the main mission craft. When the cubesat is 5 metres away, it will then be targeted by the net and captured at approximately 7 metres before it floats away to deorbit.

The VBN system from Airbus in Toulouse will test 2D cameras and a 3D LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology supplied by CSEM to track a second cubesat deployed from the main spacecraft.

The VBN system will track its rotation and movement away from the main spacecraft.  At the same time the cubesat will transmit its true position to the main spacecraft, enabling the performance of the VBN to be measured. This cubesat will then float and deorbit naturally.

The Airbus Stevenage-designed harpoon will see a 1.5m boom deployed from the main spacecraft with a piece of composite panel on the end. The harpoon will be fired at 20 m/sec to penetrate the target and demonstrate the ability of a harpoon to capture debris.

After completion of the Airbus-designed ADR operation, the main spacecraft will deploy the drag sail developed by SSC which will deorbit the craft in approximately 8 weeks. Without the drag sail, deorbiting would take more than 2.5 years.

Co-funded by the European Commission under FP7, RemoveDEBRIS is an international collaboration between the University of Surrey, Airbus, Ariane Group, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, Innovative Solutions In Space, CSEM (Switzerland); Inria (France) and Stellenbosch University.

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