Europe is setting an example on how to clean up outer space — using a harpoon

Harpoon lodges into a piece of space debrisProject RemoveDEBRIS


  • The European ‘RemoveDEBRIS’ experiment launched a harpoon that successfully captured space trash last Friday.
  • The mission, led by Guglielmo Aglietti, is the only one the world that focusing on cleaning up outer space.
  • But space debris isn’t only a problem for Europe but also other countries that are gearing up to launch more satellites into space.
Space debris is a burgeoning concern in the face of space travel but a European experiment led by a team of British engineers is on a mission to solve this crisis.

The program, led by University of Surrey’s Guglielmo Aglietti, on Friday shot a harpoon at a satellite panel and hit the bulls eye — kind of like an outer space trash stick.

The harpoon was fired from the RemoveDEBRIS satellite — meant to clean up junk that launched on board the SpaceX Falcon rocket in April last year. At 20 meters per second, it was successfully lodged into a previously set up piece of test debris.


Aglietti previously told Business Insider that, “At the end of the day, the final goal is to be able to capture very large targets, so, possibly what one of the targets that has been mentioned, as a potential one, is an old satellite, Envisat, and it is maybe the size of a bus.”

It’s not just about Europe

The problem of space debris is that not only does it threaten space travel but also the orbits of telecommunications satellites.

These satellites are the infrastructure behind making television, radio, phones and even the internet work — not to mention their importance in defence communications.

And while Europe is cleaning up the mess, China launched more rockets into orbit last year than any other country around the world. Russia and the United States follow closely, with the latter’s launches continuously increasing year-on-year.

In fact, the United States and Russia are responsible for most of the space debris around Earth’s orbit right now.


Even India is aggressively increasing its presence in space. 2018 was one of the busiest years for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with over 15 missions and 150 satellite launches.

India’s nodal space agency also set a new record for itself onboard the PSLV-C43 rocket by successfully launching 31 satellites all at once.

India and Japan are considering a joint venture to take on the problem that will be on the agenda in March during the first India-Japan Space Dialogue.

While, every country recognises the threat of the space debris — not everyone is willing to shell out the money to clean it up. The current mission with Aglietti at the help was sponsored by the entire European community and cost $56.5 million.

See also:
The race to become the next space ‘superpower’ lands China on the ‘dark side’ of the moon

ISRO, NASA just spotted a black hole spinning so fast that it could be making space itself rotate

Russia to help India with its first manned space mission, may train astronauts aboard the ISS
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