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European Space Agency, ESA

First satellite to remove space junk

The ClearSpace-1 is a mission that will test the technology to face a threat to the Earth's communication or observation systems.
After fifty years throwing objects into space, Earth's orbit, which seemed immense, begins to be saturated. Some 22,000 objects considered space junk have already been cataloged, there are more than 2,000 satellites in operation and 3,000 out of service. And those responsible for regulating space traffic do not treat the threat as hypothetical. Each year, 14 million euros are spent on diverting satellites to avoid crashes, although the European Space Agency (ESA) acknowledges that 99 of these warnings are false alarms.

In addition to improving its predictive methods, Europe already plans the first mission that will take space junk out of orbit. ClearSpace-1, a mission to be led by the Swiss company ClearSpace, is scheduled to launch by 2025 and will aim to remove the Vespa upper stage, a piece of the Vega rocket with which ESA launches its satellites that were abandoned at an altitude of between 660 and 800 kilometers in a 2013 launch. Its mass, of 100 kilograms, is similar to that of a small satellite and being a simple and resistant object is a good candidate for this first test. In the future, as ESA explained in a note, major catches and operations in which several artifacts are cleaned will be sought.

The ClearSpace-1 will first launch into a lower orbit of 500 kilometers of altitude, where it will perform some critical tests and will be tuned before ascending to its final orbit to meet its target. After mooring it with its four robotic arms, it will launch against the atmosphere to disintegrate with its capture. In the future, the system will be reusable.

ESA specialists and NASA in space junk are convinced that the "only way to stabilize the orbital environment is to actively eliminate large waste," said Luisa Innocenti, responsible for the ESA Clean Space initiative. In the current situation, "even if all the launches into space were stopped tomorrow, projections show that the total population of orbital debris will continue to grow, since collisions between objects generate new waste through a cascading effect," he added.

With the new mission, ESA intends to “continue developing essential guidance, navigation and control technologies, as well as meeting and capture methods, through a new project called ADRIOS (Active Waste Disposal / Services in Orbit). The results will be applied to ClearSpace-1, which will demonstrate the effectiveness of these technologies, ”concluded Innocenti.

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