NASA's SWORD Mission to Hunt Space Junk Introduced to Senate Committee

Introduction NASA's upcoming Space Waste Retrieval Opportunity and Recycling Demonstrator (SWORD) mission aims to tackle the growing problem of space junk, and on May 16, 2023, the mission was introduced to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Senate Committee Chairman Senator Roger Wicker expressed his approval of the mission, emphasizing the importance of responsible space debris mitigation strategies.

NASA's Space Junk Solution

headmaster <sup>1</sup> revealed that the SWORD mission will utilize a spacecraft equipped with a robotic arm and debris capture mechanism. Its primary objective is to demonstrate technologies for locating, grasping, and collecting space debris.

Gathering Space Junk

Once in orbit, SWORD will search for space debris and test different ways to capture it, including:

  • Using a ringed structure that can expand and surround a piece of debris, allowing the robotic arm to grasp it.
  • Employing a net that can be rolled out and secured around debris to facilitate capture.
  • Utilizing a tethered capture method involving a rope that can be shot at a piece of debris and secured to it for retrieval.

After successfully capturing space debris, SWORD will use on-board sorting and processing capabilities to consolidate and dispose of the debris via directed reentry into the Earth's atmosphere, where it will burn up.

Space Junk Concerns

Currently, there are no plans to recover the spacecraft after its mission is complete. However, NASA is considering using the technologies demonstrated by SWORD for future space junk cleanup missions. According to NASA estimates, more than 150 million pieces of space junk currently orbit Earth, posing a significant risk to operational satellites and space missions. Statements from Senator Cynthia Lummis and Senator Jon Tester underscored the imperative of addressing this growing problem.

Senator Maria Cantwell, the Committee's Ranking Member, highlighted the potential of the mission to create new industries and jobs while promoting the development of sustainable practices in space. Recognizing the international nature of space exploration and space junk, she urged her colleagues to support global efforts to address responsible space debris mitigation.

Conclusion

The introduction of the SWORD mission to the Senate Committee highlights the growing urgency of addressing the space junk problem. With increasing space activity comes an increasing need for effective debris mitigation and management strategies. NASA's planned demonstration not only represents a significant step toward tackling the space junk issue but also promotes the development of responsible space exploration practices. As the amount of space debris continues to grow, the importance of addressing this issue cannot be overstated.

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