Space Harpoon Will Make Orbital Debris Go Down in Flames, Literally
A team of engineers from the UK came up with the chaser satellite
All those satellites up in orbit, the ones responsible with delivering our TV programs and, to an extent, Internet, are the cause of that cloud of trash that many people don't know about.Fortunately, there are some who do, like a team of researchers from the United Kingdom, particularly the space firm Astrium UK.
Fully aware of all the disused satellites floating around the Earth and generally just being useless (yet potentially dangerous for space missions) trash, they invented a way to deal with them, permanently.
We aren't talking lasers or cosmic recycling here (where old machinery is somehow turned into new satellites).
Instead, Astrium UK envisions a “chaser satellite” which, through use of a harpoon and a tethered propulsion pack, would send the junk into an atmospheric descent.
And since atmospheric descent means super-high friction and, by extension, temperature, the useless, old satellites would burn to a crisp, and then nothing, just because of gravity finally reasserting its hold on them (and the air being in the way of course).
There isn't an easy way to speculate when the chaser satellite will be made a reality. Wednesday (October 10, 2012) is when the inventors will present their idea at the 63rd International Astronautical Congress in Naples, so we might learn more then, or we might not.
There is just one potential pitfall: the harpoon projectile could shoot right through targets and turn into useless space junk itself. A crushable portion, which reduces speed upon impact, is supposed to remove this risk.
As for the satellite itself, we guess its propulsion pack will enable it to send itself into a flaming descent once fuel runs low. If supervisors forget to do it in time, we suppose an extra satellite can just be dispatched to harpoon it down in turn.