Low Earth orbit, the portion of outer space closest to our atmosphere, currently holds an estimated 7,000 tons of space junk. In an effort to clean up Earth's space in space, the Surrey Space Centre has begun a space-cleaning mission called RemoveDEBRIS.
The RemoveDEBRIS mission is testing several different methods for junk removal. One such system uses a net, similar to a fishing trawler, to pick up objects. Rather than grabbing the space junk itself, another system lets the junk do the work. Called a 'dragsail', this system will attach photon-reactive "sails" to very large pieces of junk (e.g. out-of-commission satellites) and let the junk propel itself out of orbit.
The threat of space junk is not only aesthetic; a piece of debris as small as 10 centimeters across can destroy a satellite or space station, according to the Surrey Space Centre.