Stevenage company rockets ahead making space in space

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland testing the harpoon with Dr Jaime Reed

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland testing the harpoon with Dr Jaime Reed - Credit: Archant

A COMET country employee has come up with a novel idea to get rid of debris in space.

Dr Jaime Reed, a specialist missions system engineer at Astrium in Stevenage, has invented a harpoon to capture debris in space and then blast it into the Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up.

Dr Reed, 35, who has worked at Astrium for the past eight years, came up with the idea two years ago when on a training course.

He said: “There is a huge problem with debris in space; millions of bits of debris are orbiting the Earth. About 800 of these are large objects over a tonne, which consist of old rockets and satellites, and pose a threat to the ever increasing amount of satellites being used; these are orbiting the earth at 17,000 mph. When I came back from the course I investigated the idea a bit more and found it was feasible. When we began 18 months ago everyone was very sceptical but the more I looked into it the more I thought that it would work.”

The idea works by using a ‘chase’ satellite with about five to 10 harpoons attached. Using laser and tracking systems the space junk is detected, the satellite then tracks down the target and fires a gas propelled harpoon. The harpoon secures the debris then detaches a small sub-satellite which pulls it back into the earth’s atmosphere, where it breaks up.

Astrium will be presenting the space harpoon at the 6th European Space Agency conference in Darmstadt in Germany, where experts will be discussing the growing problem of space debris.

Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland, who tested the harpoon on Tuesday, said: “This is another example of Stevenage leading the way and clearly illustrates we have some of the best scientists in the world.

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“Astrium is among one of the most high-tech and advanced companies on the planet and has been using its employees’ expertise to reach out into space for many years.

“The space industry is big business for the UK and is growing at almost 10 per cent a year due to the amazing innovations of companies such as Astrium, which is leading the world.

“We are all working hard to make our planet a greener place and Astrium is now helping us clear up the mess we have left behind in space too.”

Dr Reed said: “It’s incredible really, there has been a lot of interest. I think it has sparked the public’s imagination as it is such a simple idea – it basically does what it says on the tin. Obviously the engineering side is more complicated, but that is what we do every day.

“Space is a success story for the UK and it is what we are really good at.”