- The European Space Agency (ESA) debuted a small prototype of the net gun it plans to use to retrieve dead satellites from space.
- Polish company SKA Polska, under contract for the project, demonstrated the technology by capturing a drone at a recent event for the ESA's Clean Space Initiative.
- This is one of multiple options being tested for a future orbital mission called e.deorbit that aims to retrieve a defunct ESA satellite and burn it up in the atmosphere.
Like the massive amount of marine plastic, this is a situation with multiple sources and no easy solutions.
Estimates vary, but at least 300,000 pieces of space debris are known to be orbiting the Earth at dangerously high speeds. NASA and the Department of Defense track nearly 20,000 pieces that are larger than a softball. In addition to damaging active satellites, this debris could also pose a danger to the International Space Station.
Old satellites and rocket components account for some of the debris, but Vox reported that nearly a quarter of it comes from two recent incidents. In 2007, China was widely criticized for destroying one of its weather satellites in a military test. Then in 2009 two satellites - one Russian, one American - accidentally collided and added to the problem.
While these pieces will eventually burn up in the Earth's atmosphere, the concern is that the larger ones will collide with each other along the way and create an exponentially larger amount of debris that is harder to control. Ideas have ranged from a fiber optic laser to a robotic arm to the net gun, but funding for space missions has become less of a priority for many countries and none will be ready any time soon.
Once it receives final approval, the ESA's goal is to launch its e.deorbit mission by 2023.