A space-mining startup in China just launched a robot prototype into low-Earth orbit capable of scooping up debris and other space junk left behind by earlier spacecraft — with a giant net.
This is the latest in China's attempts to expedite its efforts to close the gap between itself, Russia, and the U.S. — and become a major space power.
Called the NEO-01, the net-bearing space robot will also peek into deep space to observe small celestial bodies — and was launched on March 6 along with several other satellites, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. The 66-lb (30-kg) robot was developed by the startup, Origin Space — which is based in Shenzhen — and aims to forge new roads to the future of technology capable of mining elements on asteroids, said the company.
Since the first asteroid mining company in the world was founded in 2009 — called Planetary Resources — more than a dozen additional firms worldwide have popped up in the nascent space junk-cleaning industry, including Japan's Astroscale and 3D Systems of the United States. Astroscale's technology employs magnets to collect space junk in low-Earth orbit, but NEO-01 will use a deceptively simple-sounding net to capture debris and then burn the trash using an electric propulsion system, according to a Channel News Asia report.