HARWELL, UK — There are currently more than 160 000 pieces of space junk floating in Earth orbit, and 34,000 of these are longer than 10 centimeters.
These pieces move at incredible speeds and pose a real danger to all current and future spacecraft.
The BBC reports that the world's first test satellite that uses magnets to gather up space junk, will launch this week.
The test satellite is called Elsa-d and it consists of two spacecraft, a 175 kilogram "Chaser" and a 17 kilogram "Target".
These two units will go up together on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and, once in orbit, separate to play multiple games of cat and mouse.
The Chaser will use its sensors to find and chase down the Target, latching on to it via a magnetic docking plate.
It will then release the Target for other capture experiments.
The tasks will become increasingly complex, with the most difficult maneuver requiring the Chaser to grab the Target as it is tumbling.
Ultimately, the Chaser will grab the Target and drop out of orbit to burn up in the atmosphere.
The company that created the Elsa-d test satellite, Astroscale, says the next phase of the programme would be to retrieve multiple pieces of debris in a single mission.
The company expects to launch this mission by the end of 2023.