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A harpoon designed to clear harmful space junk has been tested for the first time.
The British-led RemoveDebris mission aims to tackle the problem of waste material in space left by rockets and other deployments.
Scientists say between 16,000 and 20,000 pieces of junk have been tracked orbiting the Earth.
The test was carried out by Airbus and involved a harpoon piercing through sample pieces of debris that were dangled on a boom about one-and-a-half metres from the spacecraft.
When the harpoon hits debris, a barb is deployed to secure it.
Although the harpoon is still a number of years away from operational use, the experiment is a major step towards making it possible to clean up space junk as the number of spacecraft launches continues to increase.
Astronaut Tim Peake has revealed the damage orbital junk can cause to spacecraft.
He shared an image of a chipped window panel on board the International Space Station in 2016.
Scientists believe something as small as a paint chip hurtling towards the space station could have caused the damage.
It is hoped when the harpoon is fully operational it will be capable of firing at debris up to 30 metres away.
Back on Earth, engineers are still trying to work out how the system can be used to target moving objects.
The harpoon – which is capable of travelling at 20 metres per second – is a joint initiative between Airbus, the University of Surrey and the Surrey Satellite Technology firm.
Previously, a RemoveDebris experiment showed how a net could be used to catch potentially dangerous pieces of rubbish orbiting the Earth.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore said: “Space debris can have serious consequences for our communications systems if it smashes into satellites.
“This inspiring project shows that UK experts are coming up with answers for this potential problem using a harpoon, a tool people have used throughout history.
“This mission is a powerful example of the UK’s expertise in space technology and that by working together, our world-class universities and innovative companies can hugely contribute to the government’s aims for a highly skilled economy through our modern Industrial Strategy.”
This story was originally published on Sky News Technology