Space debris is the rising issue and finding ways to deal with it is a major problem. In 2013 more than 500,000 pieces of space debris or junk were seen near the Earth’s orbit. The speed of this debris is more than 17,500 mph which can destroy a satellite released in into space.
When this space debris collides with space vehicles, space shuttles, spacecraft and other vehicles they increase the danger. The space debris also poses threat to the life of astronauts during their space travel. Cleaning of the space debris is not as easy as cleaning our home or environment.
In past, many techniques were employed to clean this junk. For instance, the suction cups were used but these cups don’t work in space due to vacuum. The sticky substances and the magnets only attract the magnetic substances present within the space.
To clean up the space debris the researchers from NASA and Stanford University have designed a new technique which is inspired from the adhesives geckos. The newly designed robotic gripper can gather these space junk and dispose of them. The details related to gripper robots has been mentioned in the Science Robotics on June 28. This gripper robot can collect and reposition the space trash which is encircling the Earth’s orbit for safer space journey.
Geckos which has many microscopic hairs that have an adhesive effect which can stick to the surface. Similar to geckos’ feet the gripper has specially designed pads that have silicone rubber hairs which are 10 times thinner than that of our hair. Hence the space debris can be grabbed by this robot by placing their pads on the surface of debris. These adhesives pads can stick to curved objects, solar panels. This gripper pads can be turned off and on.
During the study, the robots were used to hold the objects like a cube, beach ball, a cylinder which resembles the space debris. The robot was good at holding these objects with very little force. Hence these robots are ready to be released in space that can clear the space debris and avoid the collision.