ESA has signed an € 86 million contract with an industrial team led by Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to purchase a unique service: the first to remove an item of space debris from orbit.
As a result, in 2025, ClearSpace will launch the first active debris removal mission, the ClearSpace-1, to recreate the upper part of a Vespa (Vega secondary payload adapter) used with Europe’s Vega launchers. , Will capture and take down. Following the second flight of the Vega in 2013, the object was released into ‘gradual settlement’ orbit (664 km altitude approximately 801 km), complying with space debris mitigation rules.
Paying for such a service contract instead of directly purchasing and running the entire mission is a new way for ESA to do business – as a first step in establishing a new commercial area in space.
Along with purchasing this initial mission, ClearSpace itself will raise the remaining portion of the mission cost through commercial investors – ESA is also contributing to key technologies for the flight, through its agency’s Clean Space Initiative, its active debris Is developing in / remove. Orbit Servicing Project, ADRIOS.
These include advanced guidance, navigation and control systems and vision-based AI, which allows the Chaser satellite to safely close on target on an autonomous basis, as well as robotic weapons to capture.
Challenge further achievements
ESA Director General John Warner explains, “Think of all the orbital occupations that have occurred up to this point and all of them have happened with cooperative, fully controlled target objects.”
“With space debris, by definition no such control is possible: instead, objects are colliding exclusively randomly.
“So this represents the first and the disposal of an uncooperative space object an extremely challenging feat. But with total satellite numbers set to grow rapidly in the coming decade, regularly maintaining debris levels under debris control To prevent a fount of collisions that threaten to make the debris problem worse. “
Luke Piguet, founder and CEO of ClearSpace comments: “At orbital velocity, even a screw can collide with explosive force that cannot be resisted by mission designers; instead the threat activates debris objects Need to be managed through deletion. “
“Our tow truck ‘design will be available to clean up major classes of debris that might otherwise make them unusable for future missions, eliminating the increased risks and liabilities for their owners and the space industry as a whole. “Our goal is to create affordable and sustainable in-orbit services.”
Louisa Inausanti, head of ESA’s Clean Space Office, says: “The plan is that this leading capturing forms the foundation of a recurring business case, not only to remove debris by responsible space actors around the world, but in-orbit servicing Also for: These similar technologies will also be capable of refueling and servicing satellites, extending their working lives. Ultimately, we envisage extending this trend to assembly, manufacturing and recycling. “
European industry leads to debris removal
ClearSpace – a spin-off company founded by an experienced team of space debris researchers from EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne – is leading an industrial team that includes companies from several European countries, and contributes to Switzerland. Will come from the enterprises of Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Poland, United Kingdom, Portugal and Romania.
With a mass of 112 kg, the ClearSpace-1’s Vespa target is close to a small satellite in size, while its relatively simple size and robust construction make it a suitable first target, before capturing larger, more challenging ones by subsequent missions. Finally including multi object capture.
The ClearSpace-1 mission will initially be launched for commissioning and critical tests in an orbit of at least 500 km before it is lifted into the target’s orbit for leveling and captured using a quartet of robotic arms , Which is flying under the supervision of the ESA. The combined ‘space robot’ chaser plus the Vespa target would then be uninhabitable for burning in the atmosphere.