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  1. ITV Report

Could a harpoon be the solution to the space junk ticking time bomb?

Thousands of miles above our heads, hundreds of thousands of pieces of space junk travel at ten times the speed of a bullet - threatening our way of life.

If a piece of debris the size of a grain of sand hits an active satellite, the consequences could be catastrophic.

"The problem with space junk is that it can damage functioning satellites, then we might lose the ability to use our phones, the weather forecast could be disrupted," said Doug Millard, space curator at Science Museum.

He added: "Communication, navigation, everything we take for granted with our mobile devices could be affected."

A concept of how space junk could be harpooned Credit: ITV News

According to Nasa there are now more than half a million pieces of junk in space and each piece is travelling at up to 17,500mph.

Aerospace development company Airbus believe the solution could be on the horizon.

For a number of years the company has been developing a harpoon that it hopes will be a solution to the space junk problem.

Several different solutions had been considered, including a throw-net, clamping mechanisms, robotic arms before it was decided a tethered harpoon would be the best answer.

Harpoons rely on three physical actions to ensure safe and clean grasping: a high-energy impact into the target, piercing the structure and then reeling it in.

Airbus Defence and Space's preliminary design for a space harpoon system Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

The aim is to pull the space junk out of orbit, meaning it would blow up and disintegrate.