ESA announces first space junk cleaning mission

The European Space Agency (ESA) said it is working with startup ClearSpace to launch the first space junk cleaning mission by 2025.

The mission, dubbed ClearSpace-1, will use a robot equipped with four arms to capture the Vega secondary payload converter (Vespa) left behind by ESA's Vega launch vehicle in 2013. Space debris This 100 kg weight is hovering in orbit at an altitude of about 800 km above the ground.

"All orbital captures up to this point have taken place with fully controlled target objects. Space debris is not as controllable, instead, they drift and often random somersaults," said ESA Director General Jan Wörner.

The European Space Agency recently signed a $104 million contract with Swiss startup ClearSpace to carry out this mission. The team will use the ClearSpace-1 robot to capture Vespa from low Earth orbit and drag it down into the atmosphere, where the two will burn up. If everything goes according to plan, it will be the first time a space debris has been removed from orbit.

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ClearSpace-1 robot simulation captures space debris with 4 robotic arms. Video: ClearSpace .

"The task of capturing and disposing of a space object in uncontrolled orbit is extremely challenging. With the number of new satellites expected to grow rapidly over the next decade, routine space junk removal is becoming more and more common. should be necessary to keep debris levels under control, in order to prevent a series of collisions that could potentially make things worse," added Wörner.

There's a lot of debris in low-Earth orbit right now, ranging from inactive satellites to propulsion stages and parts of launch vehicles after separation. They are orbiting the Earth at speeds of up to tens of thousands of kilometers per hour, potentially colliding with satellites and space stations in orbit, as well as threatening future space missions.

"At such great speed, even a single screw can cause massive damage on impact," emphasized ClearSpace CEO Luc Piguet. "The ClearSpace-1 robot will clean up orbit, ensure debris does not affect future missions, benefit the entire space industry. Our goal is to build a garbage removal service. affordable and sustainable space".

In addition to the contract with ESA, ClearSpace will also rely on commercial investors to cover mission costs. As part of ESA's Active Debris Removal and Active Debris Removal and Clean Space Initiative (ADRIOS) project, the agency will provide essential technologies, including advanced guidance, wings robotic arm, navigation, control system and vision-based artificial intelligence, leaving ClearSpace-1 to handle its target.

Vespa was selected as the first target for ClearSpace-1 because it has a relatively simple shape, sturdy construction and is about the size of a small satellite. If successful, the team could leverage similar technology to deal with larger and more challenging space debris in the future.

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