The problem of space debris grows as we put more vehicles into orbit, seeing that from time to time it causes accidents that can be dangerous (especially in the case of the International Space Station, constantly with crew members). Space agencies urge to end the problem due to the risks and the expense it causes, one of the solutions being the ELSA-d mission, which has finally been able to capture an orbiting object for the first time.
ELSA-d was put into orbit months ago (since March 2021) with its powerful magnetic system to capture outdated satellites and launch them into the atmosphere for destruction. Although solutions have been proposed to avoid this re-entry and that it is rather killed with cannon shots, the re-introduction into the atmosphere has been somewhat more recurrent, ELSA-d being one more example and this mission being aimed at creating a standard in the industry (of disposing of garbage).
Magnets have passed their most important test
The ELSA-d system has been in the testing phase since its launch and into orbit at about 550 kilometers. Now when the end of your mission draws near, ELSA-d has managed to capture an orbiting object for the first time.
As we described when talking about the mission (and we remembered at the beginning), ELSA-d has a capture system composed of a powerful magnet in the main module that acts as an anchor, so what they have done is to make a series of anchoring and undocking monitoring the process and calibrating the sensors. This is phase 3a of tests, which will be followed by phase 3b that will involve some autonomous maneuvers approach, first in with the relatively static object and then in one that is rotating on itself.
With this, they validate the magnetic system to trap space debris, continuing with the next steps that will involve inspection practices and your final test: dispose of your batteries and fuel before rushing into the earth’s atmosphere (with the object). It will be necessary to see if everything goes as planned and if in the end ELSA-d can provide a standard that effectively serves to reduce the problem and not continue to increase it.
In this sense, concern about excess space debris has also increased not so much because of debris, but by objects that orbit the Earth in an active and functional way. Starlink has received much criticism and alarm bells from astronomers, so they signed an agreement with NASA to avoid collisions. A company that is not alone in planning to offer satellite internet, so future garbage-destroying missions will clearly have work to do in the coming decades, when these satellites may become damaged or obsolete.
Image | Astroscale