ESA Wants To Clean Up Space Junk With Rocket-Powered Claw
Do you remember those arcade gripping machines forever immortalized in Toy Story as the god-like entity known as “The Claw”? Well, a much larger version of the same concept could soon be launched into orbit and used to clean up space debris – based on the hundreds of thousands of space debris orbiting the Earth at unimaginable speeds, threatening to cause catastrophic damage to the satellite or spacecraft it is carrying could collide.
This is essentially the idea behind a new project, sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA), where the Swiss startup ClearSpace is constructing and opening a robot for removing debris (a giant space claw by a different name) called ClearSpace-1 will bring to market.
The enormous space claw will seek and seize large chunks of space debris and then let them race to Earth, where they will fortunately be burned by the atmosphere.
“The capture system is based on four arms that are operated to close when the target is within the capture volume,” a ClearSpace spokesperson told Digital Trends. “This system is simple and also guarantees reusability [since] it can be opened and closed and used as many times. Its design can adapt to the various shapes space debris can have – from missile bodies to defunct satellites. “
ClearSpace-1’s first target for the cleanup is an old Vespa payload adapter, a rocket piece that would weigh 250 pounds on Earth and has been in orbit since 2013. Once this cleanup work is complete, ClearSpace-1 will likely continue to work on other debris that may shift out of orbit.
With such a large amount of space debris to be disposed of, and many of them less than 10 cm in length (which makes it very difficult to collect), it will be a while before orbit is truly free. But if everything goes according to plan, things will undoubtedly get off to a good start. This could be the first of many space claws.
“Developing the service for ESA takes four years, and so are we [currently] in the preliminary design phase, ”said the spokesman. “The start is planned for 2025.”