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  Astrium UK design to "harpoon" spent satellites

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Author Topic:   Astrium UK design to "harpoon" spent satellites
SkyMan1958
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Posts: 355
From: CA.
Registered: Jan 2011

posted 10-04-2012 05:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SkyMan1958   Click Here to Email SkyMan1958     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There's an interesting article from BBC News dealing with a new plan currently being researched in the UK for mitigating the build-up of space junk by "harpooning" old satellites.
"Space has become a critical part of our infrastructure - from weather forecasting and Earth observation, to GPS and telecommunications," said the harpoon's designer, Dr Jaime Reed, from Astrium UK.

"Space junk poses a real threat to these vital services if we do nothing about it, and so it's very important we develop capture technologies to remove some of this material. Studies have shown that taking out just a few large items each year can help us get on top of the problem."

Dr Reed's proposal is for a barbed spear about 30cm in length. It would be mounted on a "chaser satellite" that would edge to within 100m of a junk object.

Pictures sent to the ground would then be used to assess the target, before the chaser was moved to within perhaps 20m to take a shot.

Once the harpoon is hooked through the skin of the rogue satellite or rocket stage, the chaser could either pull on a trailing polymer cord itself or deploy a separate thruster unit to do the job of dragging the aimless drifter towards Earth.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3023
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-04-2012 06:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Of course the same technology can also be employed nefariously by SPECTRE.

Jay Chladek
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Posts: 2211
From: Bellevue, NE, USA
Registered: Aug 2007

posted 10-05-2012 12:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jay Chladek   Click Here to Email Jay Chladek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If anything is going to get that close to a junked satellite, might as well grapple it some other way as opposed to shooting a spear at it. A spear can impart inertia into an object and if the aim isn't just right, it could cause the target to start tumbling, perhaps go shooting off in a different direction (admittedly a small chance of that if the satellite is heavy) or spew debris on many different paths to potentially threaten other objects in similar orbits.

Ross
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Posts: 373
From: Australia
Registered: Jul 2003

posted 10-05-2012 09:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ross   Click Here to Email Ross     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I thought the biggest problem was not old satellites but smaller fragments. All satellites are tracked and for the foreseeable future are unlikely to cause significant problems. However, small items are much more numerous and difficult, if not impossible, to track. It only needs a small item travelling at speed to destroy a satellite (or spacecraft). Whether removing old satellites is worth the cost is a question for others.

Regarding grappling satellites, this is not an easy task unless the satellite was deliberately designed to be grappled. Even then there are significant possible problems. Designing an automated satellite to grapple another satellite that may be spinning and or tumbling and has not been designed to be grappled would require quite some engineering, not to mention AI.

All times are CT (US)

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