Mission to clean up space junk with magnets set for launch
This debris is composed of parts of old satellites as well as entire defunct satellites and rocket bodies. The debris poses risks to the International Space Station and threatens things we take for granted on Earth -- weather forecasting, GPS and telecommunications. It's a problem that's getting worse with more and more satellites being launched each year
by ventures like Elon Musk's SpaceX.
A demonstration mission to test new technology developed by the company Astroscale to clean up space debris is set to launch in the early hours of Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
A Soyuz 2 rocket will launch a 175-kilogram spacecraft with a satellite attached into space. The spacecraft and the 17-kilogram satellite -- the debris to be cleaned up -- will separate and then perform a high-stakes game of cat and mouse over the next few months.
Astroscale will test the spacecraft's ability to snatch a satellite and bring it down toward the Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up. It will do this in a series of different maneuvers, with the mission expected to end in September or October of this year.
As part of the mission, the company will test whether the spacecraft can catch and dock with the satellite as it tumbles through space at up to 17,500 miles per hour -- several times faster than the speed of a bullet.
The tests rely on a magnetic docking plate to latch onto the satellite. Astroscale said it hopes all new satellites being launched will ultimately have this docking plate, allowing them to be safely removed at the end of their life span. What's more, Astroscale said it had already signed a deal with internet satellite company OneWeb.
"Now is the time to take the threat of debris seriously by committing to debris removal programs and preparing satellites for future removal at their end of life," said John Auburn, managing director of Astroscale UK and group chief commercial officer.