2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
The European Space Agency has signed an agreement with the Swiss startup ClearSpace to launch a space debris machine in 2025. The satellite will have to de-orbit a large portion of the Vega rocket, which was launched back in 2013, which will be the first such mission to be completed, the organization said.
The active use of near-Earth space in recent decades has led to the appearance of a large amount of space debris in the orbit of the planet. In total, according to scientists, today more than half a million uncontrollable objects over a centimeter in size revolve around the Earth.
The continued accumulation of debris from satellites and parts of missiles in orbit may become a serious problem for the safety of already operating vehicles and the launch of new ones. In this regard, many companies, both start-ups and state space agencies, are working on plans to clean up near-earth space. However, none of these programs has yet been implemented.
The European Space Agency plans to become the first organization to implement such an idea, as evidenced by the published information on the signing of a contract with ClearSpace. The mission, called ClearSpace-1, will de-orbit a 100-kilogram piece of Vega rocket, which has been in space since 2013, in 2025. It remained after the launch of the European Earth remote sensing satellite Proba-V.
According to the agreement, employees of the ClearSpace startup, which was founded by a group of experienced space debris researchers from the École Polytechnique de Lausanne, will be able to submit the final version of the project within a few months, and its implementation will begin in March 2020. The estimated cost of the project is USD 129 million, which should cover both the development and launch of the created device.
At the moment, ClearSpace is finishing the selection of companies for cooperation, as it will be engaged in the development of the device, and plans to order its creation from third-party organizations. According to the executive director of the company Luc Piguet, the satellite, which does not yet have its own name, will have a high degree of autonomy and weigh no more than 400 kilograms. At the moment, designers tend to use chemical propulsion in orbit, but in the future they do not exclude the possibility of using both chemical and electric motors.
The target was the conical element of the Vespa split payload system, which allows one Vega rocket to deliver two satellites to orbits with different parameters. It is now located at an altitude of about 800 kilometers, which makes it a suitable target due to its relatively small distance, as well as its simple shape and rigid construction. Also, in size, it roughly corresponds to a small satellite, of which there are already many in space, and taking into account the plans for the introduction of global satellite Internet systems, much more of such objects may appear.
The first orbital clearing vehicle would have to bring the target along with it, so that both of them would burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. In the future, it is planned to create reusable devices capable of removing several debris without collapsing.
A number of proposals have already been put forward for cleaning the Earth's orbit from space debris, including satellites with an adhesive layer for adhesion of debris and electrodynamic traps to slow down the flight speed of debris. Last year, a space debris simulator caught a space debris simulator in a net for the first time last year. For more details on the problem of space debris and possible ways of dealing with it, read our material "Garbage Belt".