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Space Technology

EPFL's CleanSpace One Satellite Will "Eat" Space Junk 53

Zothecula writes: Working with Geneva's University of Applied Science and Signal Processing 5 Laboratory, Swiss research institute EPFL has announced details of a plan to capture its tiny SwissCube satellites by using a new spacecraft outfitted with a conical net. Called "CleanSpace One" the team hopes that their "Pac-Man" solution will capture the old satellite. Gizmag reports: "...SwissCube's spinning action will make it more difficult to image, as its surfaces will alternately be brilliantly sunlit or hidden in shadow. That's why CleanSpace One's computer vision system will be running algorithms that account for variables such as the angle of the sun, the dimensions of the target, the speed at which that target is moving, and the rate at which CleanSpace One itself is spinning. High dynamic range cameras will also allow it to simultaneously expose for both bright and dark surfaces."
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EPFL's CleanSpace One Satellite Will "Eat" Space Junk

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  • by Falos ( 2905315 ) on Wednesday July 08, 2015 @05:25PM (#50072165)
    I always figured the hard part was detecting/locating debris, more than bumping it towards reentry or escape velocity.

    I also always figured Planetes was going to be unmanned machines in practice.
  • /obligatory
  • by Eloking ( 877834 ) on Wednesday July 08, 2015 @05:33PM (#50072191)

    Basically, this satellite need to joint the orbit and velocity of it's target. It seem a lot of energy to remove "one" debris. If something need to be done, wouldn't a freaking big net or something be better?

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      A net is not going to be able to handle something hitting it at a few kilometres per second.
      Also a lot of junk is small stuff in similar orbits, for instance lots of lumps of sodium that used to be coolant for a reactor but are now floating side by side like very large shotgun pellets.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Lasers. You have infinite solar power available. Big battery, big laser, push the target towards the earth to de-orbit it. You would have to figure out a combination of power output, focus and duration to ensure that there is no danger to the earth, or maybe just angle it such that it is pointed over the horizon and you are just decelerating junk enough to de-orbit.

  • Let me guess, it tries to eat the USS Constellation?

  • I would think that metallic satellites would be good targets for RADAR VS. optical tracking.
    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      I would think that metallic satellites would be good targets for RADAR VS. optical tracking.

      Not sure. Cubes are not the best for radar tracking : convex shape, flat surfaces, sharp angles. These are actually the basis for stealth design.

  • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Wednesday July 08, 2015 @05:57PM (#50072317)

    I'm no rocket scientist but this is nuts. We are going to launch some satellite, have it capture another one, then deorbit both of them? What a waste! A waste of energy and technology to launch such hardware just to throw it away. Not to mention that orbiting broken satellites might have some useful components we might consider trying to recycle. A big dish antenna is heavy, but could conceivably be reused and save launch weight on the next satellite.

    These larger pieces of space junk are easy to track, few in number, and thus are not that dangerous. What we really need is a solution that allows us to start clearing out the smaller pieces of junk. Maybe by just nudging them around until they are in decaying orbits, or vaporizing them using lasers. If we are going to talk pie in the sky, let's do something more useful...(and perhaps more likely to be successful.)

    • by Anonymous Coward

      These are easy to track, but their number isn't few.

      The cost is high, but less than the cost of losing new satellites. In addition, the more junk we have, the more collisions resulting in more fragments.

      Oddly enough, your suggestion of "just nudging them around until they are in decaying orbits is exactly what this mission is all about. It's the prototype for attempting to nudge a particular object into a decaying orbit. If it works, we can refine and improve upon the technique, until we perhaps nudge tw

    • Let me get this straight.

      You're proposing we send up assembly robots to dock on to old satellites and recover parts to attach to new satellites, just to save the weight of the salvaged part?

      You then need to add a bunch of fuel to get your satellite in the correct orbit to get to the old satellite
      More fuel to ship up the weight of this robot.
      More fuel to get your satellite back in the orbit it needs to be.
      More fuel to account for the extra fuel.

      Just so potentially damaged and obsolete parts can be recycled?

      • No, I said we should be thinking about such stuff because there might be value there... Which is totally different than making the claim it's a good idea. I haven't a clue if it's viable or not... I'm not a rocket scientist and all...

        • by pahles ( 701275 )
          And what are you going to do with all those salvaged parts? It's not like it's easy to get them back to earth...
      • One more thing... This idea of recycling was not original to me.. It came from DARPA I think..

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      These larger pieces of space junk are easy to track, few in number, and thus are not that dangerous.

      While they may be easy to avoid by themselves, if, for some reason, they collide with other space junk, they may break up into a large number of smaller pieces, possibly triggering a chain reaction. Bigger debris also typically experience less drag and stay in orbit for longer.

  • Gelatinous cubes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday July 08, 2015 @08:01PM (#50072855)
    Figure out a cheap way to make a low-density material aerogel in space. Make a large quantity of it as a single mass (doesn't have to be a cube - could be a sphere) and put it into an eccentric orbit which intersects some of the orbits with the most junk. The stuff is good at catching small high-velocity particles [nasa.gov] without fragmenting. The high surface area to mass ratio means its orbit will decay a lot quicker than regular junk. So put it into a (relatively) high orbit where it'll collect junk for a few years, before aerodynamic drag degrades its orbit and it (and the junk it's caught) burns up on re-entry.
    • Mod +1 for D&D reference.

      Not too happy about the rest of this., though. I have worked with aerogel. It is weird stuff. It may be able to stop tiny particles but it tears easily. Most of the experiments that used aerogel to capture small particles from comets and suchlike kept the aerogel in a tin. So, for every bit it captures because some paint chip digs straight into it, it may lose a chunk from the surface when another paint chip hits it a glancing blow. And if you are up there long enough, and sp

  • Hopefully this thing is just a proof of concept, any such system should be able to capture multiple pieces of debris whereas this this thing seems physically limited to capturing a single piece of debris and deorbiting. That simply is impractical with over 19k pieces of debris over 3.9 inches in size to launch a satellite for each and every one. Even if each satellite had the fuel and storage to capture 100 pieces of debris that would be around 190 satellites. A better concept might be to have a couple d

    • Proof of concept seems right. The cubesat will probably drop out of orbit anyway, but it is a handy target. If you can pick up one piece of uncooperative garbage then you can probably pick up all the others in your orbit without using a lot of fuel. That would be particularly handy for cleaning up the geostationary orbit by lumping all the unused satellites together. It would then be nice to deorbit the lot. That would take a lot of fuel, but it might be possible over a long time with a solar sail, or an i

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