European Space Agency Signs $102 Million Deal To Bring Space Trash Home
The European Space Agency has signed a $102 million deal to bring space trash back to Earth.
Ever since the Space Age got into full swing back in 1957, the ESA says there’s been more space debris in orbit than operational satellites. ‘Swirling fragments of past space endeavours are trapped in orbit around Earth, threatening our future in space,’ the agency wrote.
Remember 2013’s Gravity, with pieces of an exploded satellite flying faster than speeding bullets all around the planet? While the ISS isn’t going to be blown to bits any time soon, debris collisions are a dangerous prospect.
As reported by The New York Post, the ESA has signed an €86 million ($102 million) contract with Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to lead the ‘first active debris removal mission’ in 2025.
The ClearSpace-1 mission will look to bring home the Vespa payload adapter, which had been left in orbit following the second flight of the ESA’s Vega launcher in 2013. At around 100kg, the Vespa is close in size to a small satellite.
Once the ‘chaser’ launches into orbit for initial tests, it’ll rendezvous with the Vespa before capturing it with a ‘quartet of robotic arms’, a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both spacecraft will then deorbit to burn up in the atmosphere.
Luc Piguet, founder and CEO of ClearSpace, earlier said: ‘This is the right time for such a mission. The space debris issue is more pressing than ever before. Today we have nearly 2000 live satellites in space and more than 3000 failed ones.’
And in the coming years the number of satellites will increase by an order of magnitude, with multiple mega-constellations made up of hundreds or even thousands of satellites planned for low Earth orbit to deliver wide-coverage, low-latency telecommunications and monitoring services. The need is clear for a ‘tow truck’ to remove failed satellites from this highly trafficked region.
This could be in reference to Elon Musk’s Starlink network, with plans to send thousands of satellites into low orbit around the Earth in order to facilitate high-speed internet anywhere on the planet.
Jan Wörner, ESA Director General, also earlier said: ‘Imagine how dangerous 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 cannot be allowed to continue.’
Luisa Innocenti, who’s leading the ESA’s Clean Space initiative, added: ‘Even if all space launches were halted tomorrow, projections show that the overall orbital debris population will continue to grow, as collisions between items generate fresh debris in a cascade effect. We need to develop technologies to avoid creating new debris and removing the debris already up there.’
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