The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded a contract to Swiss startup ClearSpace to deorbit debris from a Vega rocket launched in 2013.
ClearSpace-1 is expected to be launched in 2025 and will attempt to capture and deorbit a Vega payload adaptor in low Earth orbit. According to a December 9 ESA press release, its “relatively simple shape and sturdy construction” make the adaptor an ideal first target before teams progress to more challenging captures.
The payload adaptor targeted for capture was utilized for the launch and deployment of three cubesats aboard a Vega rocket on May 7, 2013. Although the exact dimensions of the adaptor are not known, the ESA has revealed that it has a mass of approximately 100 kilograms.
Once launched, the ClearSpace-1 “chaser” will be deployed into a low Earth orbit at an altitude of around 500 kilometers. The chaser will then be put through a series of tests before it’s raised into the target orbit.
Following a successful rendezvous with the payload adaptor, four robotic arms under the supervision of ESA ground controllers will be deployed to capture the target. The chaser will then drag the target into a destructive orbit with the pair burning up in the atmosphere.
The ClearSpace-1 mission is part of the ESA’s new Space Safety programme that seeks to contribute to actively cleaning up space.
“Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner. “That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue. ESA’s Member States have given their strong support to this new mission, which also points the way forward to essential new commercial services in the future.”
ClearSpace-1 is the latest in a series of missions proposed recently to deal with the threat or a growing space debris field. In September 2018, Surrey Satellite Technology became the first provider to remotely capture a target in orbit. The company’s RemoveDEBRIS spacecraft captured a target cubesat with a net as it orbited Earth.