SpaceX successfully launched the Dragon cargo capsule aboard it’s Falcon 9 rocket that lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Monday. The Dragon spacecraft is filled with 5,800 lbs. (2,630 kilograms) of supplies and science experiments for the International Space Station’s (ISS) Expedition 55 crew which also includes the RemoveDebris satellite weighing around 220 pounds, or 100 kilograms.
The Dragon cargo spacecraft along with the RemoveDebris satellite will arrive at the ISS on Wednesday morning.
Built by a team of European engineers, the RemoveDebris satellite will work to clean up space debris that is a real threat to important satellites as well as manned spacecraft operating in the earth’s orbit. There are currently about 20,000 pieces of debris, sized 10 centimeters or larger, being tracked, orbiting the Earth at speeds of up to 17,500 mph, according to NASA.
The RemoveDebris mission is designed and built by a consortium led by the University of Surrey and funded by the European Commission. It will run a couple of experiments in the coming months to test the utility of nets and harpoons to capture and destroy some of the debris floating around our planet.
In the first test, the main spacecraft will eject a CubeSat that will maneuver to a distance of more than 20 feet, where it will unfurl a balloon. Then the spacecraft will deploy a net to capture the CubeSat. A second minisatellite will test the laser ranging (Lidar) and camera technology needed to monitor the debris in orbit. Another experiment will see a harpoon fired at a piece of debris.
A large drag sail designed to slow down the debris removing spacecraft as it falls out of orbit, ensuring it burns up on re-entry, will also be tested.
The RemoveDebris satellite is currently slated for deployment from the space station either at the end of May or at the beginning of June.