A solution to pollution - netting a derelict satellite? Credit: ESA

A solution to pollution – netting a derelict satellite?
Credit: ESA

 

Think of it as a new form of “networking” – a method of snagging an uncontrolled, tumbling satellite.

Engineers at the European Space Agency (ESA) are moving beyond powerpoint chatter and carrying out weightless net testing for derelict satellite capture. The use of deployable nets to snag discarded satellites as they tumble in space was explored recently in weightlessness.

To trial-run the technology in a condition of microgravity, a Falcon 20 aircraft was flown for two days earlier this year. The aircraft is flown in such a manner that for 20 seconds at a time it falls through the sky, effectively cancelling out gravity inside the aircraft.

“We shot nets out of a compressed air ejector at a scale-model satellite,” explains ESA engineer Kjetil Wormnes.

The National Research Council of Canada’s Falcon 20 aircraft, flown out of Ottawa Airport, was used for parabolic flight experiments. Credit: ESA

The National Research Council of Canada’s Falcon 20 aircraft, flown out of Ottawa Airport, was used for parabolic flight experiments.
Credit: ESA

The behavior of the nets was appraised, with 20 nets fired at various speeds during 21 parabolas over the two days. Packed inside paper cartons, the nets were weighted at each corner, helping them to entangle the model satellite.

Control of debris levels

“Everything was recorded on four high-speed HD cameras,” Kjetil adds. “The aim is to check the simulation tool we have developed, so that we can use it to design the full-size nets for a debris removal mission.”

The work is geared to support ESA’s “e.Deorbit” in 2021, an initiative that will test the feasibility of removing a large item of debris — either a large, derelict spacecraft or rocket upper stage — to help control the debris levels in busy orbits.

It’s an element of ESA’s Clean Space initiative.

“The main advantage of the net option, whether for e.Deorbit or other debris removal missions in future,” Kjetil explains, “is that it can handle a wide range of target shapes and rotation rates.”

Take your own video look at the ESA orbital debris collection idea at:

http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2015/03/Weightless_net_testing_for_derelict_satellite_capture

 

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