1st Satellite Built to Harpoon Space Junk for Disposal Begins Test Flight

An artist’s illustration of the RemoveDebris space junk cleanup prototype deploying its drag sail in orbit. The microsatellite was deployed from the International Space Station on June 20, 2018. Credit: RemoveDebris
The first spacecraft to demonstrate active space debris-removal technologies — such as a harpoon, a net and a drag sail — in orbit has been released from the International Space Station to commence its mission.

By Tereza Pultarova | SPACE.com

Astronauts at the space station sent the 100-kilogram (220 lbs.) RemoveDebris spacecraft off for its pioneering mission using Canadarm2, the 17.6-meter-long (57.7 feet) robotic arm used for servicing and capturing cargo ships.

The spacecraft is the largest payload deployed from the space station, according to NanoRacks, the Houston-based company coordinating RemoveDebris‘ deployment. The spacecraft drifted away from the orbital outpost at about 11:30 p.m. BST (7:30am EDT) on Wednesday, June 20. [7 Ways to Clean Up Space Junk]

Engineers at the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom confirmed about 2 hours later that they had contacted the spacecraft from their facilities in Guildford, Surrey, a small town in southern England.

The ground controllers will spend the next two months switching on all the satellite’s subsystems and checking that they work as designed, according to Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey and principal investigator of the European Union-funded, 5.2-million-euro ($18.7 million) mission.

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