IMechE - Cleaning up space, one robot at a time

27th September 2023 6:30 pm

Space has a problem. It’s a problem that humans have exported from the planet surface and now threatens the essential services provided by satellites and our own safety. Put simply, space is filled with junk.
Since the first man-made object was sent into orbit, tens of thousands more have been launched and left in orbit around our planet. Everything from entire spacecraft, rocket parts, cameras, human waste and even a sports car now float around our planet.

Whilst it’s tempting to think of space as being a huge area where this simply could not be a problem, many of these objects float around uncontrollably in the same orbit as satellites we rely on every day. Satellites that provide essential communication services, predict weather patterns, provide critical geospatial data, intelligence and even our streaming TV services are at risk. A collision between even the smallest piece of debris and a satellite could be catastrophic not just for the spacecraft but increasingly so, for us on earth.

We can solve this problem by removing some of the debris we’ve left behind and we can reuse or recycle some of the debris left behind into new space craft or materials. But space is an unforgiving environment where astronauts are at constant risk. The obvious choice therefore is to use robotics to carry out these tasks for us.

In this lecture, Jeremy Hadall will highlight the growing need for the use of robots, both to clean up our space environment and to enable the sustainable manufacture and assembly of future space craft in orbit. Covering the latest developments in the field and the challenges faced both technically and commercially, the lecture will provide an overview of this new space race and the leading role the UK can play in it.

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