SA tech to help clean up 'space junk'

Net capture experiment with DebrisSAT-1. (Innovus)
Net capture experiment with DebrisSAT-1. (Innovus)

Cape Town – Researchers in Stellenbosch have developed avionics for the two DebrisSats which will remove space junk in orbit around the Earth.

But a local satellite project - developed by CubeSpace, one of Stellenbosch University’s Innovus spin-out companies - plans to help alleviate the situation.

The experimental mission will use 'CubeSats' and work like a net to capture and de-orbit the space junk. CubeSats are small satellites locally developed with support from the university to explore commercial opportunities in space exploration.

“The project started end of 2013. Our part took about 12 months to develop and to build the engineering and flight model avionics for the two DebrisSAT satellites,” Professor Herman Steyn, head of Satellite Engineering Group in the department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, told Fin24.

READ: SA satellite gets official name

“The launch date is not finalised yet, but the aim is to launch from the International Space Station by middle 2017,” said Steyn.

“The launch of ZA-AeroSat and the other CubeSats of the QB50 mission will also be from the International Space Station,” Steyn said.

Through the Innovus venture, Stellenbosch University has employed 226 people in a group of companies with a combined turnover of R205m.

US space agency Nasa says that more than 500 000 pieces of space junk are being monitored as they orbit the Earth. More than 20 000 pieces are bigger than a cricket ball and represent a danger to space craft.

In 2009, defunct Russian satellite crashed into a US Iridium commercial satellite, resulting in an increase in space debris which travels at more than 27 000km/h (or 7.5km/s, about the speed of meteors).

WATCH how the CubeSAT will work in this online video:

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