Cleaning Up

Just-Launched Spacecraft Will Use Grappling Hook to Destroy Space Junk

byDan Robitzski
Mar 23

It uses a magnetic grappling hook to catch space junk and fling it into an incineration orbit.

Drag and Drop

A Japanese company called Astroscale is tackling the increasingly dangerous cloud of space junk orbiting our planet and the real threat it poses to satellites and other spacecraft.

The company launched a new kind of satellite called the End of Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) on Monday, Quartz reports. Soon, ELSA-d will use a powerful magnet to latch onto a doomed companion satellite and fling it down into a lower orbit where the ill-fated companion will incinerate upon reentry into the atmosphere. Meanwhile ELSA-d will remain safely stationed in a higher orbit, ready and waiting for the next mission — a demonstration of how it could help clean up other garbage in orbit.

Chicken and Egg

The problem facing companies like Astroscale is that they’re entering such a new industry. Because there’s practically no one out there servicing existing satellites that are already in orbit, it doesn’t make sense for other companies or space agencies to put the extra effort into building readily-serviced satellites.

“It’s kind of chicken and egg,” Ben Reed, formerly the head of space servicing research at NASA’s Goddard Space Center, told Quartz. “There is no servicer for the masses.”


New Industry

That could soon change, though, with Astroscale’s ELSA-d and a satellite-refueling initiative from Lockheed Martin helping pave the way.

For instance, Quartz notes that OneWeb Satellites plans to put magnetic panels — the same kind ELSA-d can latch onto — on its constellation of broadband satellites, potentially helping to set the satellite repairability trend in motion.

READ MORE: Robot garbage hunters are coming to clean up space [Quartz]

More on space junk: Research: Most Geosynchronous Space Junk Has Never Been Catalogued


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