The RemoveDEBRIS satellite was deployed from the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, marking the business end of the mission that will test – for the first time – new technology aimed at capturing and deorbiting space junk.
The satellite rode to the ISS in the CRS-14 Dragon, following its launch via a Falcon 9 back in April.
Built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), the spacecraft is based around the SSTL-42 satellite bus. The mission, which has received funding from the European Union, will see the satellite demonstrate techniques for capturing and deorbiting debris from low Earth orbit.
The spacecraft features three Airbus technologies to perform Active Debris Removal (ADR): a net and a harpoon to capture debris, and also a Vision Based Navigation (VBN) system to develop rendezvous techniques in orbit with space debris.
“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,” noted Nicolas Chamussy, Head of Airbus Space Systems.
“We will continue to work closely with teams across the world to make our expertise available to help solve this issue.”
It began its mission via deployment from the space station via the Japanese Experiment Module’s robotic arm on Wednesday.
— Oleg Artemyev (@OlegMKS) June 20, 2018
RemoveDEBRIS will next deploy the first of a pair of two-unit CubeSat subsatellites – DebrisSAT-1 (DS-1).
DS-1 will deploy an inflatable balloon to increase its size and drag, before RemoveDEBRIS attempts to capture it with a net. When the cubesat is 5 meters away, it will then be targeted by the net and captured at approximately 7 meters before it floats away to deorbit.
With the increased drag from its balloon hastening this process.
The mission objectives then call for RemoveDEBRIS to deploy its second subsatellite, DebrisSAT-2 (DS-2), which will serve as a target for its second experiment, Vision-Based Navigation (VBN).
The VBN system from Airbus in Toulouse will test 2D cameras and a 3D LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology supplied by CSEM to track a second cubesat deployed from the main spacecraft. The VBN system will track its rotation and movement away from the main spacecraft.
At the same time, the cubesat will transmit its true position to the main spacecraft, enabling the performance of the VBN to be measured. This cubesat will then float and deorbit naturally.
The third phase of the mission will see RemoveDEBRIS attempt to harpoon a third target, which will be extended out from the main satellite.
The Airbus Stevenage designed harpoon will see a 1.5 meter boom deployed from the main spacecraft with a piece of composite panel on the end. The harpoon will be fired at 20 meters/sec to penetrate the target and demonstrate the ability of a harpoon to capture debris.
The final phase of the mission will test the deployment of an inflatable sail, which will increase the satellite’s drag aiding its removal from orbit.
The drag sail developed by SSC which will deorbit the craft in approximately 8 weeks. Without the drag sail, deorbiting would take more than 2.5 years.
“After almost 5 years of development, it is exciting to finally be in a position where we can test these extremely exciting technologies in the field,” said Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, Director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey and Principal Investigator for the mission.
“If successful, the technologies found in RemoveDEBRIS could be included in other missions in the very near future.”
The mission timelines will see the net deployed in October this year, followed by the VBN test in late December and then the harpoon in February 2019. The experiments will all be carried out below the orbit of the ISS.