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Fishing space debris from orbit
31 July 2013
Millions of pieces of space debris are orbiting Earth dating back to Sputnik-1 in 1957. Could we use fishing nets, harpoons and sails to reel them in?
Almost 5,000 launches since the beginning of the space age have left orbits littered with defunct satellites, parts of rockets, fuel tanks, tools lost by astronauts and other fragments which threaten to damage and destroy active spacecraft.
As more satellites are launched every year, collisions are becoming increasingly likely. In Low Earth Orbit (LEO) objects move at around 7.5 km/s (the equivalent of travelling from Guildford to London in six seconds). This speed means that if two objects collide they will create thousands of other pieces of debris, as happened with the 2009 collision between the Russian Kosmos 2251 and US Iridium 33 satellites.