ESA Technology Transfer Success Story - From space debris to rogue drones: how a net-firing gun could help counter both problems [Aug/2022]
Italian Engineering firm STAM is developing a net-firing gun, called the Drone Catcher, based on ESA-funded research to remove space debris, to tackle the growing problem of disruption caused by illegally-flown drones at public events.
By 2026, it is forecasted that the global commercial drone market will be worth $58.4 billion, growing an estimated 16% a year. Hobbyists can easily purchase a simple drone weighing a few hundred grams for under €100, without a license and with little or no paperwork, depending on the country. Drones also have the potential to disrupt large events, such as football games or concerts, spoiling the enjoyment of millions of fans, and have interrupted a number of high-profile sporting events in recent years.
Under ESA contract from 2013-2016 Italian engineering firm, STAM, developed a parametric simulator for active debris removal using nets, ARDiNET (Net parametric characterisation and parabolic test), in partnership with Polish firms, SKA and OptiNav. This space debris technology is now being adapted to capture rogue drones on Earth. Under ESA contract, STAM have leveraged their expertise developed on the ADRiNET and ADR1EN projects to develop a net-firing gun called Drone Catcher. In the event that a drone enters the stadium, one of several Drone Catchers mounted to the stadium itself fires a net at high speed at the drone. The drone quickly becomes entangled in the net, aided by the motion of its blades, then is rapidly retrieved using a powerful motor, before it ever hits the ground.
Unlike some other potential solutions, the Drone Catcher can be safety used above crowded areas, such as stadiums. The drone is swiftly retrieved in one piece, never falling below a 3m height. This is a key advantage of STAM’s solution and is derived from two important design features. Firstly, the solution is non-destructive, i.e., does not destroy the drone it captures. non-destructive solution confers other benefits besides increased safety. Keeping the captured drone intact allows for forensic analysis and means the drone itself can be used as evidence of a crime. Secondly, the Drone Catcher uses a powerful motor to quickly reel in the net and drone after its capture. The net is reeled in fast enough that even at a distance of 30m from the gun, the drone should never get within 3m of the ground, leaving a safe distance between peoples’ heads and the captured drone.
STAM have designed their system to take down drones weighing up to 8kg, although further testing will be required to reach this weight in practice.
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This initiative is led by ESA's Technology Transfer and Patent Management Unit (TTPO) in ESA's Directorate for Commercialisation, Industry & Procurement. The Unit is guiding start-ups, entrepreneurs and European businesses in developing spin-offs for ESA's space technologies. More recent successful transfers can be accessed at: Technology Transfer - Funded Projects. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.