Last month, CNN reported that space debris left over from a 2007 Chinese missile test had collided with a Russian satellite, according to a researcher at the Center for Space Standards & Innovation.
And in 2012 the crew of the space station were ordered into escape capsules as a precaution after a piece of debris passed close by.
Both Reed and Johnson say the focus over the last 30 years has been on mitigation but NASA and other space agencies are looking at ways to remove large derelict spacecraft and rocket launch stages from low earth orbit.
The harpoon is clearly aimed at capturing the larger objects but many other solutions have been proposed, including the use of lasers to nudge space junk out of the way, or using giant nets and space tugs.
"It's a very active area," said Reed. "Lots of people are coming up with ideas."