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  1. ITV Report

British-led mission to clean-up space junk successfully launched

The satellite took off on board a rocket on Monday evening - it is due to arrive at the International Space Station on Wednesday morning. Credit: PA

A British-led mission to solve the dangers of space junk orbiting the Earth has been successfully launched.

The RemoveDEBRIS satellite is set to be deployed from the International Space Station and will carry a net for capturing space rubbish and a harpoon that can haul in larger objects.

How can a harpoon stop junk in space? ITV News met the team behind the challenge of answering that question.

Several solutions had been considered by the Airbus team, 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.

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

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

Nasa tracks more than 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a cricket ball orbiting the Earth at speeds of up to 17,500 mph. An estimated 500,000 pieces are the size of marble or larger.

A collision between a space craft and an object even as small as a marble could be disastrous.

The new venture coincides with the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 crashing back down to Earth and landing in the South Pacific on Monday morning.

This radar image shows the shape of Tiangong-1 as it fell. It crashed in the South Pacific on Monday morning. Credit: AP/Fraunhofer Institute

Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, director of the Surrey Space Centre at the University of Surrey, said: "It is important to remember that a few significant collisions have already happened.

"We believe the technologies we will be demonstrating with RemoveDEBRIS could provide feasible answers to the space junk problem - answers that could be used on future space missions in the very near future."