Scientists have proposed several ideas for dealing with inoperative satellites, including refueling them, deploying garbage collecting robots, or even enveloping space junk with ultrathin sheets of solar-powered material that will burn up on reentry into Earth's atmosphere.
"We were searching for a test that was cost-effective," Aglietti said. "For example, you can fly to capture space debris using a robot arm. It's a good solution, but it is a more complex solution and more expensive."
A consortium of European companies are involved in the $17.5 million project, including Airbus, which developed the harpoon and net technology, and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., which worked on the avionics. Half of the funding for the experiments was provided by private-sector companies, with the European Commission covering the rest.
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Aglietti said the mission is intended as a proof of concept. The hope is that the industrial partners can then carry the concept forward for their own operational missions that would remove real-life space debris. There's no expected launch date for future missions.
RemoveDEBRIS was delivered to the ISS aboard the SpaceX CRS-14 launch on April 2.