Last Wednesday the European funded RemoveDebris satellite, a space debris technology demonstration, was deployed from the NanoRacks Kaber deployer on the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold.
According to a press release from NanoRacks who facilitated the launch from the space station, “the RemoveDEBRIS mission will perform four experiments, which will be tested on two CubeSats to-be-deployed from the larger satellite, acting as artificial targets. These experiments include both the first harpoon capture in orbit and a net that will be used on a deployed target. The team will also test a vision-based navigation system that uses cameras and LiDaR technology to observe CubeSats that will be released from the main spacecraft. Finally, the RemoveDEBRIS craft will deploy a large drag sail that will cause the orbit of the spacecraft to rapidly decay until it is destroys in the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The net demonstration will be deployed in October followed by the vision-based navigation system in December and the harpoon in February 2019. The satellite will be moved to a lower orbit than the International Space Station for the demonstrations.
The demonstration is being touted as “one of the world’s first attempts to address the build-up of dangerous space debris orbiting Earth.”
This is an important issue as there are literally 10’s of thousands of space debris in Earth orbit that pose a risk to all spacecraft. At some point much of the debris will have to be dealt with, likely starting with the larger pieces.
RemoveDEBRIS “was designed, built and manufactured by a consortium of leading space companies and research institutions, led by the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey and funded in part by the European Union Seventh Framework Programme. The consortium consists of: Airbus, Ariane Group (France); Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (United Kingdom); Innovative Solutions In Space (Netherlands); CSEM (Switzerland); Inria (France); and Stellenbosch University (South Africa).”
Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Airbus Space Systems said: “We have spent many years developing innovative active debris removal systems to be at the forefront of tackling this growing problem of space debris and to contribute to the UNs’ Sustainable Development Goals for our future generations. We will continue to work closely with teams across the world to make our expertise available to help solve this issue.”
Canada’s role in space debris mitigation
Canada has been active in both the policy side and technology development area.
On the policy side Canada has been a leader on the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee.
On the technology side, the Space Flight Laboratory has already demonstrated drag sail technology for small satellites. Neptec sells and develops advanced LiDars. Meanwhile, MDA is now marketing orbital servicing kits to companies who want to get into that developing market.