Less waste in orbit: The European Space Agency (ESA) is planning a mission to remove space debris. she has the Swiss startup Clearspace commissioned with a corresponding mission.
According to Clearspace 2025 bring a spacecraft into orbit, which captures the upper stage Vespa the launcher Vega and causes them to enter the atmosphere and burned up. The rocket section, weighing around 100 kilograms, has been orbiting Earth since the second flight of the Vega 2013 in an orbit at an altitude between 660 and 800 kilometers.
Vespa, an abbreviation for Vega Secondary Payload Adapter, is well suited as the first target, according to Esa, because the part is a sturdy construction and has a relatively simple shape. Later missions then have more demanding tasks, including capturing and deorbiting multiple objects simultaneously.
"Imagine how dangerous seafaring would be if all the ships ever lost would still drift on the water.". said Esa boss Jan Wörner, "But that's the current situation in orbit, and so it can not go on."
It is the right time for such a mission, added Luc Piguet, founder and CEO of Clearspace. "The issue of space debris is more urgent than ever, and today we have nearly 2,000 active and more than 3,000 fancy satellites in space."
The number of satellites will increase significantly in the coming years, when companies such as Oneweb, SpaceX or Amazon build their own constellations for satellite Internet.
Experts have warned for some time about these mega-constellations, which may become a threat to other spacecraft. Even if no space launches were to start now, the problem would still be bigger, according to Esa, due to satellite collisions. The only option is therefore to actively remove large debris from orbit.
The appropriate systems for this purpose should be included of the Active Debris Removal / In-Orbit Servicing project (Adrios) to be developed. The results will be transmitted to the mission Clearspace-1.
Clearspace is a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic College in Lausanne (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, EPFL). The EPFL has been researching for some time on the removal of space junk. Since 2010, the scientists have been working on the Cleanspace One project. Clearspace was founded in early 2018 to continue the project and implement the concept as a business model.