Space

EPFL's CleanSpace One satellite will "eat" space junk

EPFL's CleanSpace One satellit...
CleanSpace One uses its net to envelope the SwissCube satellite
CleanSpace One uses its net to envelope the SwissCube satellite
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CleanSpace One approaches the SwissCube satellite
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CleanSpace One approaches the SwissCube satellite
CleanSpace One begins to extend its net around the satellite
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CleanSpace One begins to extend its net around the satellite
CleanSpace One uses its net to envelope the SwissCube satellite
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CleanSpace One uses its net to envelope the SwissCube satellite
Because the 10 x 10-cm (3.9 x 3.9-in) SwissCube will likely be spinning, swallowing it in a net should be easier than trying to grab it with a claw
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Because the 10 x 10-cm (3.9 x 3.9-in) SwissCube will likely be spinning, swallowing it in a net should be easier than trying to grab it with a claw
View gallery - 4 images

Three years ago, Swiss research institute EPFL announced its plans to build a spacecraft that could grab orbital debris and then carry it back towards Earth, burning up in the atmosphere with it on its way down. Called CleanSpace One, the satellite was depicted at the time as using a claw-like grasping tool. Now, however, EPFL has announced that it will utilize a folding conical net to essentially gobble up bits of space garbage.

When it's launched – possibly as early as 2018 – CleanSpace One's first target will be the now-defunct SwissCube satellite. Because the 10 x 10-cm (3.9 x 3.9-in) object will likely be spinning, swallowing it in a net should be easier than trying to grab it with a claw.

Additionally, however, SwissCube's spinning action will make it more difficult to image, as its surfaces will alternately be brilliantly sunlit or hidden in shadow. That's why CleanSpace One's computer vision system will be running algorithms that account for variables such as the angle of the sun, the dimensions of the target, the speed at which that target is moving, and the rate at which CleanSpace One itself is spinning. High dynamic range cameras will also allow it to simultaneously expose for both bright and dark surfaces.

CleanSpace One begins to extend its net around the satellite
CleanSpace One begins to extend its net around the satellite

Once SwissCube is within range, CleanSpace One will then extend its net around the satellite, subsequently closing that net back down with the target inside.

The net was designed by students at the Western Switzerland University of Applied Sciences. Animation of it in action can be seen in the following video.

Source: EPFL via Engadget


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View gallery - 4 images
7 comments
Dragon_Elder
I am really confused as to why they would have the capture satellite burn up in atmosphere along with the junk, seams like a really big waste of money and technology. Why not trap the object and then jettison or use some sort of thrust to then push just the object towards earth's atmosphere and then proceed to the next piece of debris in orbit. wash, rinse, repeat...
christopher
More junk PR. Satellites go faster than bullets. Like, 20x faster. Like, almost 30,000 km/h. You can't catch one unless you match it's speed. So you need rockets. Rockets expel gasses etc. It looks like the "catcher" is far larger than the target, so you are effectively replacing the easy-to-see existing satellite with a far greater mass of invisible gasses (spent rocket fuel).
All future satellites are going to have to continuously impact these unavoidable gasses, at 30,000km/h, so they will need more rockets themselves to correct their course, which will put more gasses in play, and so on.
This is a downward spiral that will destroy all future space satellite viability.
You can easily tell that this is not a real project that will ever actually fly. how? Because they're getting kids to design it. If it was real, they'd be using scientists with experience.
Jay Finke
How about deflecting the objects, deflecting would handle high speed object better, without damaging the ''space cleaner''
CharlieSeattle
A ground based laser can be used to burn up space junk far cheaper than a satellite chase vehicle.
NASA could even sell time to online users and make a video game out of the entire endeavor.
joebloeIDAHO
Bussard Ramjet.
Done.
Stephen N Russell
Add LASER to satellite alone, be awesome., Mass produce for clearing space debris if viable, super.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Why does the junk need to reenter? Seems like aggregation would be enough. Then the cloud could be mined for new space stations.