back to article Surrey Uni mans the space harpoons, and NASA buys more seats on Russian rockets

While NASA finally gave up on the Opportunity Rover, a UK-built space harpoon was fired last week, much to the annoyance of one ex-Shuttle bigwig... and earlier today, the UK agreed to fling money at satellite tech. Moby Dick in Spaaaaaace: Harpooning space junk The University of Surrey was chuffed to tell us late last week …

  1. TechnicalBen Silver badge


    Whaling on the moon was not too successful, so taking it out into orbit seems a reasonable next step.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Whaling?

      Well, they had a harpoon but no one-legged guy throwing it.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: Whaling?

        “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.”

  2. SminkyBazzA

    Hold up...

    A man named W.Hale doesn't like harpoons - understandable!

    1. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Hold up...

      And "UK science minister Chris Skidmore" sounds like he either doesn't go outside on icy days, or possibly has a major underwear problem.

  3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    the dangers of the harpoon approach

    You don't want a pointy, potentially shattery thing on the end, but something seriously sticky like the end of a chameleon's tongue.

    1. Jim Mitchell

      Re: the dangers of the harpoon approach

      Yeah, you need to sidle on up to the target and LICK it. Since space is cold, your tongue will immediately freeze to the target and you can drag it where it needs to go.

      1. paulll Bronze badge

        Re: the dangers of the harpoon approach

        You could have a satellite trailing giant fly paper behind it. Once it's picked up sufficient junk the extra mass will de-orbit it.

        Or maybe something with velcro?

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: the dangers of the harpoon approach

          What a bunch of silly suggestions. The answer to orbiting debris is obvious and simple. Space Wombles. They'll soon have the place tidied up.

          1. paulll Bronze badge

            Re: the dangers of the harpoon approach

            Cursory investigation suggests that this idea may have legs, albeit very short ones; Series 4 Episode 2, "Deep Space Wombles," isn't exactly a thorough proof-of-concept but it demonstrates the stakeholders' engagement and that much of the heavy lifting has already been done.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: the dangers of the harpoon approach

          Velcro is an interesting idea but requires international agreement on launching satellites covered in the other half of the Velcro.

          1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

            Re: the dangers of the harpoon approach

            The clean-up satellite can deploy double-sided Velcro so at least one side will stick to the satellite no matter which side the satellite has.

  4. Pete 2

    Once round the block

    > Wayne Hale, ... pointing out the dangers of the harpoon approach

    The most comical "danger" would be if the harpoon's tether broke and it missed its target.

    Then continued in it's orbit until it arrived back at the place it started from and stuck its own host satellite.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Once round the block

      I'm pretty sure that by virtue of being propelled the harpoon would have a slightly different orbital period so when it got back to its starring point the host satellite wouldn't be there.

  5. Adrian 4 Silver badge


    This thing with the sail .. doesn't the sail need some atmosphere to work ? OK once it's well down from its orbit (and probably burning nicely) but not a great way to start.

    1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

      Re: brake

      There's also solar wind... space is very very empty but even so it's not a total vacuum.

      1. DiViDeD Silver badge

        Re: brake

        "space is very very empty but even so it's not a total vacuum"

        Well of course not, otherwise you wouldn't be able to hear the noise of the X Wings when they bank left. Also their ailerons wouldn't work.


    2. james 68

      Re: brake

      Earth's atmosphere extends out past the ISS, though tenuous in the extreme at such a distance, it is there and will slow a spacecraft accordingly. This is why satellites and the ISS must expend fuel to maintain their orbits and why satellites in near earth orbit eventually sink low enough to burn up after they have expended their fuel supplies. Depending on the orbital path, relative speed and the surface area of the spacecraft this form of atmospheric de-orbiting can take anywhere from weeks to years to accomplish, the large sail is essentially just a means to hasten the result.

      1. I&I

        Re: brake

        Ionosphere - traditionally exploited for over-horizon radio from long to short wave and even itself modulated by high power transmissions - extends far above the ISS.

    3. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: brake

      Quite a bit of LEO experiences some level of aerobraking but most satellites are small enough that it doesn't impact them too badly. Exceptions include the ISS whose solar panels are big enough to catch a bit of "wind" and requires regular station-keeping boosts back up to their target orbit.

      A lightweight sail that costs little to launch but which can significantly increase the cross-section of the sat is a fairly easy and passive way to deorbit sats quicker (it'll happen anyway, but this speeds the process).

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Starbucks in space?

    Call me Ishmael.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Buying seats from (gasp) Russians

    With all the theatrics in the political sphere one might think this is odd. It's actually reassuring to me.

    1. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: Buying seats from (gasp) Russians

      I dunno, it may mean that NASA think the Tango Prince is going to throw some more histrionics and cause more shutdowns, slowing down the NASA end of SpaceX operations at KSC. Astronauts at Baikonaur waiting on a Russian launch will be less affected by such political uncertainty than astronauts sat in Florida waiting for NASA officials to sign relevant paperwork.

      1. Spherical Cow Bronze badge

        Re: Buying seats from (gasp) Russians

        I see it as a belt-and-braces approach. Who knows where the best crew launches will be happening a couple of years from now? Nobody knows, so NASA are hedging their bets.

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