London: A tiny three-kg satellite or "nanosatellite" will rid the space of dangerous clouds of junk hurtling around in the earth`s lower orbit.
More than 5,500 tonnes of junk is believed to be cluttering space around the planet as a result of 50 years of abandoned spacecraft.
The junk opens the possibility of collision with any manned or unmanned spacecraft, the destruction of hugely expensive technology and the potential threat of large debris plummeting back to Earth.
The build-up of debris -- expected to grow at a rate of five percent each year -- is also believed to obstruct satellite TV and other communications signals.
University of Surrey (U-S) scientists, working on the project funded by the European space company Astrium, have devised the "nanosatellite" fitted with a "solar sail".
"CubeSail" is a device that can be fitted to satellites or launch vehicle upper stages that are sent into orbit and can be deployed to successfully de-orbit equipment that has reached the end of its mission.
A five by five metre deployable sail is being developed to fit in a 10 by 10 by 30 cm, three kg, nanosatellite and would be used in a demo mission to be launched in late 2011, showcasing passive means of deorbiting for future satellites.
Vaios Lappas, senior lecturer in Space Vehicle Control at the U-S Space Centre (U-SSC), who led the research said in a U-SSC release: "CubeSail is a novel, low cost space mission that will demonstrate for the first time space debris/satellite de-orbiting using an ultra light five by five (metre) sail stowed and supported on a three kg nanosatellite."
CubeSail is due for launch on new satellites next year, and is expected to be available for shifting existing debris from 2013.