The European Space Agency (ESA) is signing an €86 million contract with an industrial team led by the Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to purchase a unique service: the world’s first space debris removal.
The ESA called for experts to submit a solution for removing debris from space for the first time and ClearSpace was selected, out of a panel of more than 12 candidates, to conduct the first mission to remove an item from orbit.
In recent years, the number of satellites launched per year has massively increased. Simultaneously, the presence of space debris has been growing rapidly, with more than 23,000 man-made objects tracked in space today. Consequently, satellites must regularly perform manoeuvres to avoid colliding with space debris.
This presents a growing threat to the future of space activity and security, and as a result, space debris removal has become a necessary endeavour.
ClearSpace SA will launch its first mission, ClearSpace-1, in 2025. ClearSpace-1 will rendezvous, capture and bring down for re-entry a Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter). This object was left in an approximately 801 km by 664 km-altitude gradual disposal orbit, complying with space debris mitigation regulations, following the second flight of Vega back in 2013. With a mass of 112kg, the Vespa target is close in size to a small satellite.
In nearly 60 years of space activities, more than 5,500 launches have resulted in 23,000 objects remaining in space, tracked in orbit. Today, the annual launch rates average at nearly 100 and break-ups – resulting in space debris – are occurring at an average of four or five times a year.
ClearSpace-1 will demonstrate the technical ability and commercial capacity to significantly enhance the long-term sustainability of spaceflight. The mission is supported within ESA’s Space Safety Programme based at the agency’s ESOC operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Companies from a wide range of European countries are involved in the ClearSpace-1 mission. While the lead for the industrial team lies with ClearSpace SA, contributions come from enterprises in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Romania.