12 May 2021 Industry News

ESA signs contract with Swiss agency to clean space debris

Image: ClearSpace SA/European Space Agency
Image: ClearSpace SA/European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) struck an €86 million deal with ClearSpace SA, kicking off humanity's first mission to declutter space.

Following its mission to clean up the Earth's orbit, ESA signed a contract worth €86 million with Switzerland-based start-up, ClearSpace SA.

Dubbed 'ClearSpace-1', the one of a kind pilot project will aim to secure a decommissioned payload adapter, Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) from the graveyard orbit for safe disposal via atmospheric re-entry.

The ClearSpace-1 mission will entail a close-approach capture of the orbiting debris by grappling the washing machine-sized payload adapter (with a four-armed claw), decelerating it down to the low Earth orbit and allowing the debris and the arm to burn during re-entry.

"Our 'tow truck' design will be available to clear key orbits of debris that might otherwise make them unusable for future missions, eliminating the growing risks and liabilities for their owners, and benefiting the space industry as a whole. Our goal is to build affordable and sustainable in-orbit services," said ClearSpace Chief Executive Officer Luc Piguet.

In light of the growing dependency upon satellite-based services in developing and developed economies, fast-moving space debris presents a looming threat to our presence in space-human and infrastructural alike.

An April report 'Space Sustainability: The Economics of Space Debris in Perspective' from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) identifies and provides an in-depth economic analysis of the sustainability challenges for the current and future space activities linked to space debris, providing ground to appropriate policy reforms and responses vital to ensuring human operations and presence in the outer space.

The research provides testimony to the fact that the time to mitigate the dangers of space debris is now, and we must act to ensure essential space operations, including but not limited to internet connectivity, radio and communication services, and weather forecasting are not disrupted.

To ensure entropy does not take its course ensuing chaos across the network of satellites, each performing vital operations to keep the industries running and the economies booming, a unanimous international effort to declutter space is required.

The cost of space debris management is rising and it seems ESA is willing to contribute. And it's only reasonable all able nations and agencies join the effort. After all, it's our space too.

Abhinav Raj

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