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Design and Testing of a Full Scale Harpoon Capture System

Alastair Wayman1,Andy Ratcliffe1,Simon Barraclough2,Joshua Lurie1,Sarmad Aziz3,Kjetil Wormnes3,Martin Zwick3,Andy Jardine4,James Campbell5
Airbus Defence and Space1University of New South Wales2ESA3Cavendish Laboratory4Brunel University London5

Document details

Publishing year2017 PublisherESA Space Debris Office Publishing typeConference Name of conference7th European Conference on Space Debris
Pagesn/a Volume
T. Flohrer, F. Schmitz


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. Over the last 5 years, Airbus Defence and Space has developed a harpoon capture system to achieve this.

The harpoon system is attractive due to its low mass, high reliability and robustness to target properties. It is a low risk capture system that places minimal requirements on the chaser. The projectile consists of a set of barbs to robustly hold the target, a crushable section to absorb excess impact energy, a capture confirmation system and a tether to connect to the chaser vehicle. The projectile is propelled towards the target by a deployer using nitrogen gas.

Previous projects have acted as a proof of concept and demonstrated a reduced scale harpoon system. In 2015 and 2016, Airbus Defence and Space has further developed and validated the harpoon system design as part of the European Space Agency’s Cleanspace initiative. Through this, a design able to capture a range of large debris items has been produced, with Envisat and an Ariane 4 upper stage used as reference targets. The whole system has then been breadboarded and tested at full scale in the relevant environment. This paper will present the results of the Cleanspace Harpoon project. This includes an overview of the system design, the impact and detumbling simulations performed as well as the results and conclusions from the test campaign.