Two UK companies are working on technology to find and seize the increasing number of abandoned satellites circling the earth. The robotic version of a litter-picker, or perhaps a bear hug, may remove trash with Britain's first garbage truck for space.
Companies vying for a UK contract to execute a cleanup mission as early as 2026 are putting forward the two methods.
Two retired satellites will be located and captured by the winning prototype, which will then launch them into the atmosphere where they will burn up.
The amount of junk circling the earth at 18,000 mph is raising worry. A collision with important satellites might disrupt regular services like GPS navigation and telecommunications.
One of the rival businesses, Rory Holmes of ClearSpace, told Sky News: "Without really considering what happens after a satellite's life is through, we have been putting it into space for the previous 60 years.
"We just throw them away when they break or run out of gasoline. We just let them take up room.
The other business, Oxfordshire-based Astroscale, will snag the dead satellite using a spaceship with a lengthy robotic arm.
The company's head of future business, Jason Forshaw, s
aid it was extremely difficult to create a spacecraft that could detect and seize an old satellite.
He speculated that "perhaps separate sections had fallen off the satellite."
"Antennas occasionally come off, and occasionally they are struck by debris.
"Therefore, the first difficulty is evaluating the state of the debris when you arrive.
The intricacy of the robotics required for that second stage to latch on and really approach it is high.
Growing dangers of collisions