The International Space Station (ISS) has reportedly put the RemoveDebris spacecraft, which is the first of its kind aimed at cleaning space junk with the help of a harpoon, a net, and a drag sail, into orbit for testing. It was launched into space on board a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in April.
The Britain-built satellite was deployed using robotic arm Canadarm2 at around 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time on June 20, Wednesday. Weighing at 220 pounds (100 kilograms), the RemoveDebris spacecraft is one of the biggest payloads ever deployed from the ISS.
Engineers at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom soon confirmed that they had successfully established a contact with the spacecraft from their facilities in Guildford, Surrey. Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, said that the ground controllers will keep checking all the satellite’s subsystems over the next two months to ensure that everything is working fine.
The spacecraft will continue to conduct experiments in the space for the next few months. However, it will not use its harpoon until closer to 2019. The first experiment, which is scheduled for September, will include releasing a sort-of dummy satellite, called a cubesat, in the space. Once the cubesat will move a few feet away, the RemoveDebris spacecraft will eject a net and try to grab it that way.
The second experiment, which is scheduled for December, will test the spacecraft’s vision capabilities. During the third experiment, the satellite will attempt to grab a decoy piece of space junk with a harpoon. Once the experiments are complete, the spacecraft will unfurl a drag sail to bring itself and the debris out of orbit, where the debris will burn up as it enters the earth’s atmosphere.
The experiment is quite crucial considering the fact that there are currently thousands of pieces of debris in the space posing a risk to valuable satellites and even the ISS itself.