The UK Space Agency’s RemoveDEBRIS mission is one of the world’s first attempts to address the build-up of dangerous space junk.
The prototype, which will lead to a full design in the near future, was released from the International Space Station (ISS) in late June and has captured the first bit of space debris in its net.
RemoveDEBRIS satellite, which was built by a consortium led by Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, deployed a five metre wide net which was designed to capture toaster-sized objects travelling up to 17,000 miles per hour around our planet.
After successfully capturing a piece of debris, the net will fall towards Earth where the atmosphere will burn up the object.
Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the consortium, told Sky News: ”The difficulty that we have is that you want to capture your piece of debris with the net, you want to envelop the piece of debris, then at the same time you want to draw a string so you actually capture the thing so it can’t escape.
“To synchronise all this, as you can imagine, is a bit challenging.”
There is now believed to be an astonishing 170 million pieces of junk floating in Earth’s upper atmosphere, but only 22,000 are being tracked.
Some 7,000 tonnes of space junk circle our planet, as defunct satellites, junk from rockets and other metals and rocks build up close to Earth.
Technologies such as mobile phones, television, GPS and weather related services rely on satellites, so a cataclysmic series of crashes could pose a threat to our already over-reliance for satellites.
Ingo Retat of Airbus, which was part of the project, said: “We spent six years testing in parabolic flights, in special drop towers and also thermal vacuum chambers.
“Our small team of engineers and technicians have done an amazing job moving us one step closer to clearing up low Earth orbit.”
The next step for RemoveDEBRIS will be to test navigation systems and special scanners to detect space junk.