On Monday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 departed from Florida with three tons of supplies, equipment, and new experiments for the crew of the International Space Station. As is often the case, the manifest included a few unusual things – including human sperm to be used in experiments regarding human reproduction in microgravity.

One such experiment, a technology demonstrator dubbed RemoveDEBRIS, aims to take on a growing threat to every nation’s orbital operations: junk. Space junk, which is primarily debris left behind by previous rocket launches or orbital assets that have exceeded their operational life, has been the focus of a number of projects fielded by nearly every space faring nation, and with good reason. With 23,000 pieces of orbital debris that are large enough to track, each traveling at around 17,000 miles per hour, launching rockets safely into low earth orbit and beyond may soon be nearly impossible, as the space above our heads becomes a shooting gallery loaded with our own discarded trash.

It’s no wonder, then, that countries like China, Russia, and the United States have such a vested interest in developing platforms that can intercept pieces of equipment orbiting the earth and force them into a reentry trajectory, burning the junk up and alleviating orbital traffic.

The thing is… in space, one man’s trash collector is another’s orbital weapons platform.

RemoveDEBRIS is a 220 pound piece of equipment designed not to actually capture existing space junk, but rather to deploy cube-sats (miniature satellites) and then re-capture them using a variety of applications, including a harpoon, a net launcher, and a “drag sail.” Each of these demonstrations are intended to assess the most effective, budget friendly means of capturing and destroying large pieces of wayward space debris that could potentially pose a threat to ongoing orbital operations.

However, these same means of capturing debris could easily be used to destroy or otherwise interfere with functional orbital assets, most of which are not equipped with a rapid means of evasion or any other form of defense. To a harpoon, net, or drag sail, there is little difference between an out of control hunk of Soviet era rocket and an operational communications or reconnaissance satellite.

America has come to rely heavily on a constellation of satellites for everything from GPS navigation to communications. Well aware that China and Russia have already set their sights on land and orbit based platforms intended to interrupt, interfere with, or destroy these satellites, plans are moving forward to launch an entirely new series of hardened GPS satellites, for instance, hoping to prevent an enemy from using signal interference to disrupt the flow of information through orbit – but there remains little the Pentagon can do about a physical attack on those same assets.