With hundreds of missions in space that we humans have sent, the amount of debris is certainly quite high. Now, the European Space Agency has signed a contract with a team led by a Swiss start-up that runs into millions of dollars.
This could very well be the first space mission to remove debris from orbit, and set a precedent in the commercial space trash removal market in the future. The proposed spacecraft has four robotic tentacles.
Space junk clean-up is not an easy task since one can't just vacuum clean or sweep it under a rug. Space agencies have tried to tackle this menace and NASA has been studying this since the 70s. But the company ClearSpace's contract with the ESA is potentially the first space mission to remove an item of debris from orbit. It could be a significant development for space trash removal if the mission is successful.
The ClearSpace-1 is a 500-kilogram spacecraft equipped with four robotic tentacles which will be launched in 2025.
The ambitious mission is funded by ESA and backed by enterprises in several European countries, including Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and Romania.
ClearSpace's project was the winning pitch after ESA called for entries in 2019 for experts to pitch a space debris removal solution.
The ClearSpace-1 will aim to capture the upper part of an ESA-owned craft known as VESPA (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) which is a 112-kilogram object about the size of a small satellite that was launched in 2013.
It was eventually left in gradual disposal orbit at an altitude of about 800 kilometres by 660 kilometres.
Scientists have been talking about space debris and the serious problem it poses for decades now.
It all started 60 years ago during the space race and more than 5,550 rocket launches from Earth have left approximately 23,000 tracked objects remaining in space.