IN FOCUS: Astrium engineers take a shot at space debris

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How many satellite engineers spend their day shooting at things? Answer - two. And, it must be said, Simon Barraclough and Jaime Reed are having a good time doing it.

The dynamic duo are housed in a brick bunker that was a rifle range back in the days of British National Service, when employees of what is now Astrium UK would have had to take time out for training.

However, with their air-powered harpoon gun pointed at a sheet of honeycomb aluminium typical of that used in satellite construction, they are taking aim at a deadly serious problem.

Since Sputnik 1, our formerly pristine orbital environment has become, literally, a shooting gallery. Some 4,600 launches have orbited 6,000 satellites, fewer than 800 of which are active, according to the European Space Agency.

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