An effort to clean up space of debris from old rocket launches not only helps astronauts but everyone else back on Earth, a British engineer leading tests to clear space junk has revealed.
RemoveDEBRIS is a mission exploring ways using nets and harpoons to catch some of the 16,000 to 20,000 pieces being tracked orbiting Earth, which pose a risk to the increasing number of spacecraft being launched.
The issue is also a potential problem for the satellites that provide everything from GPS to weather data on the ground.
Simon Fellowes, who works at the University of Surrey’s Surrey Space Centre in Guildford, said space junk will become an urgent problem unless it is dealt with now.
“It’s becoming urgent and I think it’s one of those things that if you deal with it now appropriately, it shouldn’t become too urgent, but it does need dealing with, and it does need dealing with now,” he explained.
“Everything that we know and love about technology today is potentially at risk from being damaged, degraded or completely destroyed, so you could lose things like GPS and the internet on your mobile phone, and everything that goes with it.”
Mr Fellowes said that even the launch of RemoveDEBRIS had to be delayed slightly because of an object overhead.
The engineer also explained that space agencies had been helpful during the project but were “naturally cautious” as well.
“There’s common agreement that this is a problem and needs to be dealt with – dealing with the agencies, they’ve all been really helpful and really supportive of what we’ve done, but obviously they are naturally cautious because we’re starting to use space in ways that we’ve not done before.”