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Right now, about 500,000 pieces of human-made debris are whizzing around space, orbiting our planet at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour. This debris poses a threat to satellites, space vehicles and astronauts aboard those vehicles. What makes tidying up especially challenging is that the debris exists in space. Suction cups don’t work in a vacuum. Traditional sticky substances, like tape, are largely useless because the chemicals they rely on can’t withstand the extreme temperature swings. Magnets only work on objects that are magnetic. Most proposed solutions, including debris harpoons, either require or cause forceful interaction with the debris, which could push those objects in unintended, unpredictable directions. To tackle the mess, researchers from Stanford University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have designed a new kind of robotic gripper to grab and dispose of the debris, featured in the June 27 issue of Science Robotics.”

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