Space junk cleanup mission secures a ride to space

A startup focused on addressing space debris concerns is now poised to demonstrate its technology by securing a spot on an Arianespace Vega-C rocket for an orbital test.

ClearSpace, headquartered in Switzerland, is aiming to execute its ClearSpace-1 mission in 2026, with the objective of capturing and eliminating a 247-pound (112-kilogram) fragment of orbital clutter.

The accumulation of space debris in low-Earth orbit presents an urgent concern. This clutter, made up of remnants from previous rockets, retired satellites, and fragments resulting from collisions among these objects, carries the risk of triggering additional harm. This could lead to the disruption of operational satellites, and in more serious cases, pose threats to both the International Space Station and China’s emerging orbital facility.

ClearSpace’s objective involves the extraction of a payload adapter that was deployed during a 2013 Vega rocket launch. The company’s spacecraft is designed to employ a claw equipped with four arms, facilitating the retrieval of this component. Subsequently, both the spacecraft and the retrieved debris will be maneuvered to a lower orbital altitude, initiating a controlled reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere where they will incinerate.

The primary goal is to showcase the efficacy of ClearSpace’s technology, potentially paving the path towards its commercial utilization.

Luc Piguet, CEO and co-founder of ClearSpace, characterized the impending mission as “a pivotal moment within the space industry,” underscoring the urgency to address a fundamental predicament: the swift accumulation of objects in space surpasses the rate at which they are being removed.

Highlighting the magnitude of the debris quandary, Stéphane Israël, the CEO of Arianespace, emphasized that the current scenario encompasses over 34,000 fragments of space detritus exceeding 10 centimeters in size. Concurrently, there are approximately 6,500 functional satellites orbiting, a count that could surge to surpass 27,000 by the decade’s conclusion.

“These statistics underscore the imperative to discover inventive resolutions that safeguard the advantages of space for humanity and life on our planet,” noted Israël.

Numerous strategies are in progress to tackle the challenge of space debris removal, with varying degrees of success in testing. Despite this, a fully validated and dependable commercial endeavor in this realm has yet to materialize; however, ClearSpace seems unequivocally focused on achieving this aspiration.

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