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Dr Craig Underwood, SST
"Space debris is becoming a major issue"
 real 28k

Monday, 19 June, 2000, 12:23 GMT 13:23 UK
Tiny satellite turns junkbuster

SSTL
Snap is just 33cm tall
A miniature satellite, developed in the UK, could clean up the vast accumulated junk of old space missions currently orbiting the Earth.

The new "nanosatellite" weighs just six kilograms and is called Snap. It was built by Surrey Satellite Technology (SST) in England.

Snap-1 is due to lift off on its first test mission on 28 June from a site in Russia.

The head of SST, Craig Underwood, told BBC News: "The main feature of Snap is that it is incredibly cheap. Snap-1 was designed and built in nine months with just a small team, so we can put together space missions for less than $1m.

"That opens up the way for missions which need many satellites but also for operations where the satellite needs to be expendable."

Dr Underwood added: "I think its true to say that Snap is the most sophisticated nanosatellite ever built. The Americans launched a few a month ago but Snap is more advanced than them."

Space junk

After 40 years of space exploration, huge amounts of space junk are now orbiting the Earth. The junk ranges in size from empty booster rockets to flecks of paint.

They are all travelling at nearly 30,000 kilometres an hour, so even a small chunk of metal can smash into satellites and space stations with the same energy as a truck travelling at a 100 kilometres an hour.

The Snap satellites have four cameras on board to target pieces of debris. They could then latch onto the debris and slow it down, so that it gradually falls into the Earth's atmosphere and burns up.

Dr Underwood said the Snap satellite would burn up along with its target debris, but, at 100,000 each, they are a fraction of the price of ordinary satellites.

He said Snap has yet to find a buyer, but he expects strong interest from insurance companies, especially those responsible for high-budget projects like the International Space Station.

Space rendezvous

The Snap satellite is due to launch from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, Russia, into a 650 km-high sun synchronous orbit. It will be on board a Cosmos launch vehicle, shared with a Chinese microsatellite, Tsinghua-1, and a Russian military satellite.

Snap will carry miniature GPS navigation, computing, propulsion and attitude control technologies. But its primary payload is the camera system capable of inspecting other spacecraft in orbit.

It will test this by making a rendezvous with Tsinghua-1. If successful, it would use the same technique to close in on space junk.

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See also:

04 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Satellite crashes into Pacific
21 Jan 99 | Sci/Tech
Looking for junk in space
31 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Probe smashes into Moon
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