The first-ever space mission to clean orbital junk will use a giant claw
Why it matters: Space debris (or junk) has become an increasing problem for scientists as hundreds of new satellites are put into orbit each year and they are so overcrowded that thousands of active spaceships are now at risk of colliding with dead satellites and debris. The defective space equipment poses a threat not only to existing satellite systems, but also to the prospects for future explorations and studies. Last year the European Space Agency called for a solution to this problem and chose the Swiss startup ClearSpace to develop technologies for a mission to clean up space debris.
The European Space Agency has signed a EUR 86 million contract with ClearSpace for the ClearSpace-1 project for the elimination of space debris. The first mission of its kind is not only new in terms of what it seeks to accomplish, but also represents a change in strategy for ESA, which a private company has chosen to design its own spaceship and plan and to construct execution.
In addition to Switzerland, seven other countries are working on the project, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and Great Britain. It was also supported by Microsoft, which awarded the Swiss startup a membership in its Global Social Entrepreneurship Program in June this year.
ClearSpace is expected to launch in 2025, with a March 2021 deadline for satellite design and mission planning. Since being selected by ESA, ClearSpace has expanded its initial workforce from five to over twenty people. The company announces that it will use the robotic arm technology developed by ESA for a claw-like device that targets Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter), a holdover from the European Vega satellite launch in 2013. Once captured, the claw will return Enter the Earth’s atmosphere where heat through compression and resistance does the rest and burns the claw and its victim.
Of course, a single cleanup will not clean up all of the debris and ~ 3,000 dead satellites in orbit, which is why the Swiss startup is looking forward to establishing itself as a long-term waste disposal company in this area. With other commercial projects like tourism and Starlink on the rise, such missions should continue to occur more frequently in the future.