The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a USD$102 million contract with a Swiss start-up company to incinerate a piece of space junk. The deal will marks the world’s first space junk cleanup mission.
The Swiss firm, ClearSpace, hopes to launch a special satellite by 2025 that will be able to snatch and remove pieces of space trash in the Earth’s orbit. There are currently thousands of defunct satellites and smaller pieces of trash that are circling the planet, posing a risk of collision with working satellites.
The founder and CEO of ClearSpace, Luc Piguet, warns that this danger will keep growing due to plans to send up potentially thousands more satellites in the low Earth orbit in the coming years.
What is Happening?
- The mission, called ClearSpace-1, will see the capture of a 112kg discarded rocket fragment that was used to bring up a satellite in 2013- dubbed Vespa- and drag it out of orbit so that it can burn up in the atmosphere.
- Piguet says, “The need is clear for a ‘tow truck’ to remove failed satellites from this highly trafficked region,” he was quoted as saying on the ESA website.
- As of February 2020, the ESA reports that approximately 22 300 pieces of debris are tracked on a regular basis by Space Surveillance Networks. Statistically, however, the numbers are likely to be much higher. The count of artificial objects in orbit around the Earth that are greater than 10cm in length is likely to be approximately 34 000, with approximately 900 000 objects between 1cm and 10cm. For those objects between 1mm and 1cm, the count is some 128 million.
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The ESA says that follow-up space junk cleanup missions will aim to capture more challenging objects and then several bits of debris at once.