Debris of all shapes and sizes, including decommissioned satellites, will represent a hazard to future space missions if left to orbit unchecked around our planet. Any approach that solves this growing issue will need to start from first principles, since an orbital clean-up campaign has never been conceived in detail, before.
A first step was made, earlier this month, in the form of two workshops that included participation from TUM at several levels. Brought together by the organisers at the Fraunhofer CML, the international group focussed on technical principles that would bring sensing, shock absorption, and attachment capabilities to the removal effort.
By conventional standards, the assignment came with a twist. What better toolkit than the technical solutions developed by nature to meet both the specific demands of the mission and, simultaneously, provide room for new and original concepts? Nature, with its vast repertoire of technical solutions, thus became a space mentor.
Participant profiles reflected this mind-set, with academics selected to represent different disciplines (biology, engineering, physics), a spectrum of ranks (from students to professors) as well as backgrounds (academia, industry).
A participating TUM aerospace student subsequently commented: “I never expected that so many biological concepts could be relevant to a space project.” An observation supported towards the end of the morning by an array of tables, filled with the names of natural species, associated technical mechanisms, engineering pointers, and cross-connections between participants’ ideas.
Not all ideas will be taken to the next step, but that was never the aim of the event. Rather, the objective was to quickly and straightforwardly build a list of specific ideas in response to quite a broad brief, and in so doing uncover unexpected avenues for space debris removal. These were non-trivial exercises that the teams completed successfully within the given (short) timeframe.
This short form is one of several biomimeic formats that zero in on bioinspired solutions for technical challenges.
Link to our biomimetic homepage.