Space debris is big problem! Spent rocket stages, non-functional or expired satellites, and even something as innocuous as flecks of paint pose a huge risk to future space missions. With the number of launches into space increasing every year, space debris is threatening our ability to safely launch and operate satellites, and operate crewed missions in Low Earth Orbit.
Many systems have been proposed to reduce the amount of orbital debris in our skies, everything from grappling and docking mechanisms for retrieving debris, to nets for capture of satellites, to using lasers to slowly deorbit larger pieces. The Space Systems Lab (SSL), in conjunction with the Aerospace Corporation, is running a UROP Space Debris Challenge to generate innovative engineering solutions to the retrieval of spent rocket bodies.