The RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft has been launched from the International Space Station (ISS) to demonstrate a range of new technologies to clean up space junk.

Led by Surrey Space Centre (SSC) at the University of Surrey, the spacecraft is equipped with three technologies developed by Airbus.

This includes a net and a harpoon to capture debris and a vision based navigation(VBN) system to develop rendezvous techniques in orbit with space debris.

Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) has designed and built RemoveDEBRIS, which also features a drag sail to accelerate deorbiting.

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Airbus Space Systems head Nicolas Chamussy 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.”

Deployment of the net from RemoveDEBRIS is scheduled to take place in October this year, while the VBN test is expected to be launched in late December. The harpoon will be launced in February next year.

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“We have spent many years developing innovative active debris removal systems to be at the forefront of tackling this growing problem of space debris.”

All these experiments are set to be carried out below the orbit of the ISS.

During the net experiment, a cubesat will be deployed from the main mission craft. Once the cubesat is 5m away, it will be targeted by the net and captured at around 7m before it floats away to deorbit.

The harpoon experiment will involve the launch of a 1.5m boom from the main spacecraft with a composite panel on the end.

After launching the boom, the harpoon will be fired at 20m per second to penetrate the target and demonstrate its ability to capture debris.

The VBN system will be used to test 2D cameras and 3D light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology provided by Switzerland’s CSEM to track a second cubesat deployed from the main spacecraft.

The RemoveDEBRIS mission was launched as part of an agreement between NanoRacks and Nasa’s US National Labs, and is jointly funded by the European Commission.

Innovative Solutions In Space, Inria and Stellenbosch University in South Africa are also involved in the mission.