Stanford is experimenting with a new space-gripping technology that might rid the planet’s orbit of the millions and millions of debris collectively known as ‘space junk’. Though tiny, the debris travel at phenomenal relative velocities and any impact with a satellite or even a manned space station can spell disaster. The researchers were inspired by the gecko’s sticky pads to make sticky patches on a mechanical gripper which might one day be deployed on a ‘janitor’ spacecraft
Many of the things that work on Earth don’t work in space. You can’t, for instance, use suction or chemical adhesion (glue) to collect junk because of the vacuum. You can’t use magnets either because there’s a lot of space junk that’s made of glass or aluminum, though ESA is proposing using magnetic beams to dislodge from orbit satellite fitted ‘magnetorquers’.