Space debris capturing technique ensuring its safe tether-assisted towing

DOI: 10.34759/trd-2019-109-1


Sizov D. V.*, Aslanov V. S.**

Samara National Research University named after Academician S.P. Korolev, 34, Moskovskoye shosse, Samara, 443086, Russia



Rockets upper stages are one of the most dangerous type of space debris, not so much herewith due to their weight and size, making collision with them rather dangerous, as they might spontaneously explode due the presence of residual fuel, creating plenty of debris with unpredictable trajectories. In this regard, many ways of space debris removing, and spent rocket stages in particular, have been proposed and analyzed in recent years. One of such methods is tether-assisted towing of passive space debris (object) by an active spacecraft (tug) to the upper atmosphere. The article considers the process of removal, consisting of three stages: harpoon capturing of the object, tether unwinding, and towing. Towing will be safe if both the tether and the object are oscillating around their equilibrium states. In this regard, the authors propose a capture technique, which employs the impact impulse from the harpoon to reduce the initial angular velocity of the object so that it will move to the position required for safe towing while the tether unwinding. Dependencies allowing determine the required position of the harpoon point of impact, and the object orientation at the moment of capture are presented. A tug thrust control law while tether unwinding, ensuring the tug reaching the specified point with the specified speed, is proposed as well. As an example of the proposed approach application, numerical modelling of the Ariane 4 rocket upper stage removal is presented. The numerical modelling results revealed that with the specified tug thrust, the tug’s reaching the specified position with subsequent towing was possible in the wide range of the tug masses. The results of the presented work can be employed for planning future missions on space debris removal from low near-Earth orbits.


space debris, harpoon, capturing, relative motion, tether-assisted towing


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