Could harpoons be the answer to our space junk problem?
Space exploration is extremely important. However, it also means that there is some stuff in space that shouldn't really be there. This is a growing problem, and while we're a long way from a space landfill, space junk does put currently operational satellites and the like at risk. It isn't the kind of problem we can or should ignore, and one British engineer reckons the best solution to the problem is to take the junk out with a space harpoon.
The BBC reports that Dr. Jaime Reed, from Astrium UK has designed a barbed harpoon that measures 30cm in length and would be mounted on a chaser satellite. This satellite would take the harpoon to the junk, stopping about 100m away from the offending object. At that point, a camera on the ground would be used to position the harpoon for the perfect shot, and the satellite would move to just 20m away. The harpoon would then hook onto the space junk and it would be pulled (either via the satellite or a separate thruster) towards Earth, burning up on its way down.
The idea isn't perfect. For example, the BBC cites Dr. Reed as saying exploding fuel tanks in old rockets are a concern. However, the harpoon is still in the conceptual stages and there are other solutions on the table as well.