Home SCIENCE Stanford Engineers Design a Robotic Gripper For Cleaning Up Space Debris

Stanford Engineers Design a Robotic Gripper For Cleaning Up Space Debris

Over 500,000 Pieces of Human-made Debris Remain in SpaceEver since Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite launched into orbit in 1957, there has been a steady influx of orbital satellites – many of which have since been abandoned. Currently, more than 500,000 pieces of man-made space debris remain in orbit around Earth.

image credit: Stanford

Researchers combine gecko-inspired adhesives and a custom robotic gripper to create a device for grabbing space debris. They tested their gripper in multiple zero gravity settings, including the International Space Station.Even magnets cannot cleanup all the debris, because obviously they could only work on metals or other magnetic objects.

image credit: Stanford

To finally clean up the mess, researchers from Stanford University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed a new robotic gripper to dispose of the debris. The gripper uses adhesives inspired by a common Earth animal — the gecko.Geckos, which are known to be skilled climbers, are key to the project.


Researchers from NASA and Stanford developed a prototype that can grip objects in space the same way geckos manage to stick to walls. The Verge noted that gecko feet are not actually sticky. However, they just have thousands of microscopic hairs that act as a flexible adhesive.

In the same way, the robot has special pads outfitted with thousands of rubber hairs made of silicone. This allows the robot to “grab” debris it is cleaning up.Stanford and NASA will have to get the gecko gripper tested outside the space station.