Human trash now litters space in the form of broken hardware and spacecrafts circling Earth. But the Surrey Space Center is working on tackling the issue – and they just got a boost from SpaceX. Their RemoveDEBRIS technology demonstrator is hitching a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station (ISS), where it will hunt space debris using a harpoon and net.

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Scientists could obtain information on which space junk cleanup strategy works with the RemoveDEBRIS technology demonstrator, which consists of “a main satellite platform that once in orbit will deploy two CubeSats as artificial debris targets to demonstrate some of the technologies,” according to the project page. The platform is packed in specialist boxes ISS astronauts will unpack. The technology will be released outside of the space station via a robotic arm. Harpoon capture, net capture, dragsail, and vision-based navigation are the technologies to be tested on the mission.

Earth, space, space junk, space debris, space trash, debris

Related: Airbus wants to harpoon a satellite and bring it back to Earth

Principal investigator Guglielmo Aglietti told the BBC experts aren’t yet decided on the best way to clean up space debris, noting the technologies each have their disadvantages and advantages. The project costs around $18 million — the Surrey Space Center described RemoveDEBRIS as low-cost. Aglietti told the BBC, “In my opinion, whether or not there are going to be real missions to remove debris will depend on cost. And I worry that if they are extremely expensive, people will think about other priorities.”

The European Commission is providing half of the funding; the partners, including Airbus and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, will provide the other half.

SpaceX said the Dragon spacecraft, which is carrying RemoveDEBRIS among other supplies and payloads on Dragon Resupply Mission CRS-14, separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage around 10 minutes following liftoff, and will attach to ISS on Wednesday.

+ RemoveDEBRIS

+ SpaceX Dragon Resupply Mission CRS-14

+ SpaceX Dragon Resupply Mission CRS-14 Press Kit

Via the BBC

Images via Official SpaceX Photos on Flickr and copyright ESA