A British satellite in orbit around Earth has successfully tested out a particularly pointed method for cleaning up space debris: piercing objects with a harpoon. In a new video taken from the spacecraft, the satellite shoots its onboard harpoon to puncture a target panel that’s about five feet away.
The test was part of the University of Surrey’s RemoveDEBRIS mission, which is designed to try out various ways of getting rid of debris in orbit. Space debris has become a growing concern for the aerospace community over the last few decades, as it makes the space environment more dangerous for future satellites. These objects typically consist of defunct spacecraft and other uncontrollable objects circling around Earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour. Getting hit by even a small piece of this debris could be enough to take out a functioning satellite, and the collision could create even more dangerous pieces of junk in the process.
That’s why those in the aerospace industry are interested in figuring out ways to remove debris from the space environment to make Earth orbit cleaner and safer for future space travel. The RemoveDEBRIS satellite, which was deployed from the International Space Station in June 2018, is equipped with different tech that’s capable of ensnaring space junk. Before this harpoon test, the spacecraft successfully deployed a net for grabbing debris.