by Brooks Hays
Geneva, Switzerland (UPI) Jul 6, 2015
Low Earth orbit is littered with space debris. But if the latest mission by Switzerland's EPFL Center for Space Engineering is successful, space will be less crowded by at least one satellite.
The center is partnering with Swiss Space Systems (S3) to launch a "Pac-Man" probe as part of the CleanSpace One mission. The probe will be outfitted with a conical net that will capture a small SwissCube satellite before the two burn up in Earth's atmosphere.
SwissCubes are a small toaster oven-sized, research-focused satellites similar to the CubeSats popular with space experimenters in the United States.
Having passed the requisite tests, engineers say the CleanSpace One prototype is space-worthy and ready to swallow a SwissCube. A tentative launch date has been set for 2018.
It's estimated that 3,000 tons of debris is currently circling the globe in low Earth orbit. A number of projects are currently working on solutions to the glut of space junk. While others have considered laser technologies and robotic trash-grabbing hands, EPFL engineers -- with the help of students from the University of Applied Science (HEPIA), in Geneva -- opted for the Pac-Man option, a mouth-like retractable cone.
"This system is more reliable and offers a larger margin for maneuvering than a claw or an articulated hand," Michel Lauria, professor of industrial technology at HEPIA, explained in a press release.
While the Pac-Man probe won't put much of a dent in space's trash problem, the project is being presented as an experiment more than anything -- a chance to test trash-capturing technology.
But capturing just one SwissCube won't be easy, as the mini satellite's reflective pieces could confuse CleanSpace One's visualization system.
"It only takes one error in the calculation of the approach for SwissCube to bounce off CleanSpace One and rocket out into space," said Muriel Richard-Noca, head of the project.
Scientists are currently working to perfect the probe's sight, formulating algorithms that account for the SwissCube's speed, orbital path and relation to the sun's light rays. With the prototype phase of the project now complete, engineers will soon begin constructing updated versions of the probe.
Space Technology News - Applications and Research
|The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement All images and articles appearing on Space Media Network have been edited or digitally altered in some way. Any requests to remove copyright material will be acted upon in a timely and appropriate manner. Any attempt to extort money from Space Media Network will be ignored and reported to Australian Law Enforcement Agencies as a potential case of financial fraud involving the use of a telephonic carriage device or postal service.