A British-designed satellite has tested technology for salvaging space junk for the first time.
RemoveDEBRIS, built to clean up thousands of potentially dangerous pieces of trash orbiting the Earth, deployed its net as part of a practice experiment in space on Sunday, researchers said.
The 220lb spacecraft, equipped with a net and harpoon, was designed and built by a consortium led by the University of Surrey and funded by the European Commission.
Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of Surrey Space Centre, said he was “absolutely delighted” with the outcome.
He said: “While it might sound like a simple idea, the complexity of using a net in space to capture a piece of debris took many years of planning, engineering and co-ordination.”
Nasa tracks more than 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a cricket ball orbiting the Earth at speeds of up to 17,500mph.
Although the chances are low, a collision between even a small object and a spacecraft carrying valuable equipment or a human crew would be disastrous.
The satellite was launched aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on April 2 as part of a resupply mission for the International Space Station.