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Sonic boom acoustic tests

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Autonomous vehicles explained

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With Airbus' Zephyr drone pushing the limits of aviation to reach an altitude of 74,000ft in the stratosphere during test flights, we would like to ask - where do you think the atmosphere ends and space begins?


Space junk removal technology testbed launched into orbit



A satellite that will test several technologies key to removing the growing amount of junk in space has been successfully launched from the International Space Station.


The European funded RemoveDEBRIS satellite, which was designed and built by UK-based Airbus subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), contains several different tests including a net and harpoon device developed by Airbus that has been designed to capture old pieces of rockets and satellites.


According to NASA there are around 500,000 pieces of debris, more than 7,600 tonnes of space junk, in and around Earth’s orbit. Some are moving as fast as 30,000mph.


Airbus are also using the RemoveDEBRIS satellite to test a Vision Based Navigation (VBN) system which will enable satellites to target and capture orbiting space debris.


The mission timelines will see the net deployed in October, followed by the VBN test in late December and then the harpoon in February 2019. The experiments will all be carried out below the orbit of the ISS.

The net experiment will see a cubesat deployed from the main mission craft. When the cubesat is 5m away, it will be targeted by the net and captured at a distance of around 7m before it floats away to deorbit.

The VBN system from Airbus in Toulouse will test 2D cameras and a 3D LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology to track a second cubesat deployed from the main spacecraft.


The VBN system will track the cubesat’s rotation and movement away from the main spacecraft while the true position is transmitted from the cubesat to the main spacecraft, enabling the performance of the VBN to be measured.

The harpoon will see a 1.5m boom deployed from the main spacecraft with a piece of composite panel on the end. The harpoon will be fired at 20m/s to penetrate the target and demonstrate the ability of a harpoon to capture debris.


In addition, the satellite will test a “drag sail” which will slow down the satellite at the end of the mission so it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere. The drag sail will deorbit the craft in approximately 8 weeks. Without the drag sail, deorbiting would take more than 2.5 years.


Nicolas Chamussy, head of Airbus Space Systems said, “We have spent many years developing active debris removal systems to be at the forefront of tackling the growing problem of space debris and to contribute to the UNs’ Sustainable Development Goals for our future generations. We will continue to work closely with teams across the world to make our expertise available to help solve this issue.”


June 21, 2018


Written by Ben Sampson


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