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Orbital debris Swiss researchers design ‘Pac-man’ net for space junk

The SwissCube satellite that needs to be captured weighs under a kilo


Scientists working on a satellite to clean up space debris at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) have designed a unique mechanism to scoop up even small objects from the earth’s orbit. 

EPFL scientists along with microengineering students from Hepia Geneva have come up with a novel mechanism for capturing and collecting debris from space. After trialling many different options, a giant “Pac-man-like” conical net was deemed to be the most promising solution for collecting small objects in space. The object would then be dragged down, before allowing it to burn up in the atmosphere. 

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“This system is more reliable and offers a larger margin for manoeuvring than a claw or an articulated hand,” says Michel Lauria, a project collaborator from Hepia Geneva. 

The “Pacman net” is part of the the Clean Space One projectexternal link initiated in 2012 to recover the SwissCube satellite, which measures only ten centimetres by ten centimetres and has been in earth’s orbit for over five years. The clean-up satellite is expected to be launched in 2018 and aims to raise awareness of the problem of space debris. 

NASA reports that there are more than 500,000 pieces of debris orbiting Earth, travelling at speeds of up to 28,200 km per hour, fast enough to damage other satellites or manned spacecrafts.

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