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Development of Harpoon System for Capturing Space Debris

Reed, Jame 1, Barraclough, Simon1
Affiliation data not available1

Document details

Publishing year2013 PublisherESA Publishing typeConference Name of conference6th European Conference on Space Debris
Pagesn/a Volume
L. Ouwehand


Active removal of large space debris has been identified as a key activity to control the growth in the debris population and to limit the risk to active satellites. Astrium is developing technologies to enable such a mission, including a harpoon capture system. The harpoon is simple, compact and lightweight. Since the capture is fast (typically <0.5s) it is relatively insensitive to the dynamic state of the target and orbital dynamics, simplifying the mission design. The harpoon system is designed to attach to the target whilst also minimising damage. The harpoon consists of a set of barbs to robustly hold the target, a crushable section to absorb excess impact energy, and a tether to connect to the chaser vehicle. The baseline firing system uses compressed gas, although a simpler one-shot system has also been designed. To understand how a harpoon could be applicable to active debris removal an on-ground prototype and test-rig has been developed for trials with real structural elements of satellites and rocket bodies. Testing has demonstrated the feasibility of the concept and this paper describes the results as well as the next steps. A number of design variants are also proposed which could simplify the system design of an ADR mission.