There are an estimated 129 million tiny bits of debris floating in orbit that, due to their high velocity, can cause catastrophic damage to space vehicles and satellites. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers are developing a compact orbiting device to semi-autonomously seek out the debris and catch it in a net. Designed as a system of CubeSats, each just 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm, the trash collector, called OSCaR (Obsolete Spacecraft Capture and Removal), will collect the tiny pieces of junk until it's full and then deorbit itself to burn up in the atmosphere. From RPI:
One of (the three) CubeSat units (in each complete system) will house the “brains” of OSCaR including GPS, data storage, and communication, as well as the power and thermal management systems. Another will hold propellant and the system’s propulsion module to drive OSCaR forward. The third unit will contain four gun barrels, nets, and tethers to physically capture debris, one piece at a time. This capture module will also have optical, thermal, and RADAR imaging sensors to help OSCaR locate debris in the vastness of its surrounding space...
“There’s an informal agreement that’s been in place for a few years that people who put space objects up there should be practicing good citizenship,” (Rensselaer engineering professor Kurt) Anderson said. “We envision a day where we could send up an entire flock, or squadron, of OSCaRs to work jointly going after large collections of debris.”
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