Removing orbital debris in a safe, robust, and cost-effective manner is a long-standing challenge, having serious implications for LEO satellite safety and access to space.

Orbital rendezvous is difficult. After that, docking is even harder. Even the tiniest converging vector (and there must be some convergence) can bounce the target away. This is a factor with compatible docking mechanisms, but is much worse with an “uncooperative” target like space debris

Controllable dry adhesion or CDA “gecko toes” have been proposed for capturing debris for removal. https://stanfordasl.github.io/wp-content/papercite-data/pdf/Bylard.MacPherson.Hockman.ea.AeroConf17.pdf

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Question: are there any space debris control systems in development which use CDA ?


1 Answer 1


The following is a partial answer - I say this as even by 2021, it seems it is not mature enough to have been scaled up to that projected size - yet. The first paper below is looking at scaling up.

So far, with specificity to "space debris control systems in development which use CDA", I would say not yet..


This paper, citing research carried out, at JPL, CalTech, under contract with NASA looked at up scaling that resulted in having to design for load-bearing designs whilst using the grippers:

Previously, controllable gecko-inspired adhesive grippers provide strong adhesive stress with little attachment and detachment effort, making them suitable for use on solar panels and the sides of spacecraft, fuel tanks, and other similarly smooth objects. Such materials and grippers have also been tested for thousands of loading cycles, in a simulated space environment, and with robotic arm teleoperation.

and then carried out these tests, combined with prior experiments: in a zero-g aircraft, on a large air-bearing floor, and inside the ISS mock up.

. Future work includes implementing a 10-unit gripper on a robotic arm for fully autonomous surface grasping and manipulation. Curved surface grasping and scaling will also be explored. Electrostatic adhesion can also be added to the current grippers to enhance adhesion on rougher surfaces.

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Papers cited include:


Controllable dry adhesion based on two-photon polymerization and replication molding for space debris removal


ON-OFF Adhesive Grippers for Earth Orbit

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Rather more about telerobotic feedback but includes gecko grippers.


Biomimicry for Aerospace - Space applications for gecko-inspired adhesives

A small test did get in to space:


The robotic gripper was tested aboard the ISS for uses such as collecting junk and repairing satellites.

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NASA astronaut Victor Glover works with an Astrobee robot, named “Honey,” to test the gecko gripper. (NASA)

The gripper traveled up to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2019. Finally, this April (2021), it was put to the test.

The astronauts unpacked the gripper and placed it on one of the station’s free-flying Astrobee robots, named “Honey,” to evaluate how the gecko gripper functions in microgravity.

NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover took two rounds to test the gripper on April 9 and April 15.

NASA plans to have the robot onboard the ISS to perform tasks, like retrieving items or taking inventory.

this breakthrough is just the first step in a three-phase strategy to demonstrate the value of gecko-inspired adhesives, with the ultimate objective of cleaning up space junk.

Bunch of links related to the above:

Stanford ‘gecko gripper’ tested on the International Space Station

Stanford ‘gecko gripper’ tested on the International Space Station


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Gecko gripper


A gecko-adhesive gripper for the Astrobee free-flying robot

Honey mentioned in 2019 hardware checks in space:


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Back to small scale this year:

Stanford Engineers Create Strong Yet Gentle Gecko-Inspired Robotic Gripper


2015 article:



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