Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Whale of a target: Harpooning space debris

Date:
June 25, 2014
Source:
European Space Agency
Summary:
Faced with the challenge of capturing tumbling satellites to clear key orbits, the European Space Agency is considering turning to an ancient terrestrial technology: the harpoon.

A tethered harpoon system to capture derelict satellites is being studied for ESA's e.DeOrbit mission, part of the Agency's Clean Space initiative to tackle orbital debris while also reducing the impacts of the space industry on the terrestrial environment. The harpoon would be fired into the satellite structure to secure it, allowing it to be reeled in and mated.
Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

Faced with the challenge of capturing tumbling satellites to clear key orbits, ESA is considering turning to an ancient terrestrial technology: the harpoon.

Used since the Stone Age, first to spear fish and later to catch whales, the humble harpoon is being looked at for snagging derelict space hardware.

Decades of launches have left Earth surrounded by a halo of space junk: more than 17,000 trackable objects larger than a coffee cup, threatening working missions with catastrophic collision. Even a 1 cm nut could slam into a valuable satellite with the force of a hand grenade.

The only way to control the debris cloud across crucial lower orbits -- like those that allow observation satellites to go on monitoring our planet at the same local time of day -- is to remove large items such as derelict satellites and rocket upper stages.

These uncontrolled multitonne objects are time bombs: sooner or later they will be involved in a collision. That is, if they don't explode earlier due to leftover fuel or partially charged batteries heated up by sunlight.

The resulting debris clouds would make these vital orbits much more hazardous and expensive to use, and follow-on collisions may eventually trigger a chain reaction of break-ups.

To avoid this outcome, ESA's Clean Space initiative is working on the e.DeOrbit mission for flight in 2021. Its sophisticated sensors and autonomous control will identify and home in on a target -- potentially of several tonnes and tumbling uncontrollably.

Then comes the challenge of capturing and securing it. Several different solutions have been considered, including a throw-net, clamping mechanisms, robotic arms -- and a tethered harpoon.

The harpoon concept has already undergone initial investigations by Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, UK.

Harpoons rely on three physical actions to ensure safe and clean grasping: a high-energy impact into the target, piercing the structure and then reeling it in.

A prototype harpoon was shot into representative satellite material to assess its penetration, its strength as the target is pulled close and the generation of additional fragments that might threaten the e.DeOrbit satellite.

As a next step, ESA plans to build and test a prototype 'breadboard' version in the hope of adopting the harpoon and its ejection mechanism for the mission.

The project will investigate all three stages of harpooning through computer models, analysis and experiments, leading to a full hardware demonstration.

Bidders are welcome on the study contract. For more information, check the invitation package, accessible throuugh ESA's tendering system.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Space Agency. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Space Agency. "Whale of a target: Harpooning space debris." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140625132803.htm>.
European Space Agency. (2014, June 25). Whale of a target: Harpooning space debris. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140625132803.htm
European Space Agency. "Whale of a target: Harpooning space debris." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140625132803.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

Newsy (Sep. 27, 2014) — Researchers at the University of Michigan simulated the birth of planets and our sun to determine whether water in the solar system predates the sun. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, including the first woman cosmonaut in 17 years, blasted off on schedule Friday. Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Newsy (Sep. 25, 2014) — Scientists have discovered traces of water in the atmosphere of a distant, Neptune-sized planet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: US-Russian Crew Lifts Off for Space Station

Raw: US-Russian Crew Lifts Off for Space Station

AP (Sep. 25, 2014) — A U.S.-Russian space crew has blasted off successfully for the International Space Station. The Russian Soyuz-TMA14M spacecraft lifted off from the Russian-leased Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan. (Sept. 25) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins