ESA reveals ClearSpace-1, the first mission to pluck trash from space

10 Décembre, 2019, 16:40 | Auteur: Therese Cote

ESA has always been a proponent of active space debris removal, marking it as a strategic goal in its programme.

The European Space Agency (ESA) worries about this space junk and is planning a joint mission with a commercial consortium to clear space debris from numerous space missions.

"The space debris issue is more pressing than ever before", Luc Piguet, founder and CEO of ClearSpace, the Swiss junk-removal startup partnering with ESA on the mission, said in the statement.

Why is this mission so important?

Imagine how unsafe sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water. "That is the current situation in orbit, and it can not be allowed to continue", he added, stating that ESA will support these "essential new commercial services in the future".

Clearly, our orbit needs a clean up process set in place.

The mission, codenamed ClearSpace-1, is slated to launch in 2025 to seize and remove a 100kg Vespa load adapter an Arianespace Vega left in orbit after mounting ESA's Proba-V remote-sensing satellite. "Today we have almost 2,000 live satellites in space and more than 3,000 failed ones", says ClearSpace CEO Luc Piguet. The spacecraft has another goal - to establish a "new market for in-orbit servicing, as well as debris removal", the statement says, following the general trend of opening up spaceflight to the private sector.

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Moreover, if these 3,000 and more disused satellites stay in Space the likelihood of them colliding is high. "We need to develop technologies to avoid creating new debris and removing the debris already up there". ClearSpace-1 will use a "Pac-Man system" to retrieve this spent rocket part, said Muriel Richard-Noca, the project manager for the mission, in a recent video explainer.

The ClearSpace-1 debris capture technique is shown in the animation below.

Vespa weighs approximately 100 kg (220 lbs), about the weight and size of a small satellite.

The "chaser" ClearSpace space probe will be launched into the target orbit where it will track down Vespa, grab it using a quartet of robotic arms and drag it out of orbit, with Vespa and the chaser both burning up in the atmosphere on the way down to Earth.

After that capture, Vespa and the robotic garbage collector will make a controlled yet fiery descent into Earth's atmosphere.

Space debris is a growing threat to humanity's space activities, and is caused by various items in space such as non-functioning satellites, remnants of collisions in space, discarded items from spaceflights such as rocket stages, missions like India's ASAT, which tested an anti-satellite weapon by blasting it into pieces, and even flecks of paint from other missions.

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