Scientists are testing ways to catch ‘space junk’ - old rocket and spacecraft parts orbiting the Earth.

In a recent British-led experiment, a large net was cast from a small satellite attached to the International Space Station.

The 5-metre net was thrown about 6 metres out from the station, where it successfully enveloped its target - an inflated structure deployed for the test.

US company NanoRacks developed the microsatellite deployer that cast the net.

“This is not sci-fi. We repeat, not sci-fi,” the company said on Twitter.

Research leader Dr Guglielmo Aglietti said the test was successful even though the target was spinning faster than expected.

If anything, the unexpected challenge made the test more realistic, he said.

The demonstration was meant to test just one way of removing debris, such as old rocket and spacecraft parts, from orbit.

The swirling sea of space junk that surrounds our planet poses a hazard to satellites, space stations and rocket launches, and is growing almost every day.

Both the net and its target were deployed in such a way that they will eventually fall out of orbit together and burn up.

In the next test, a space harpoon will be deployed in a similar manner.