Innovation

ClearSpace Develops New Space Debris Cleaning Probe

In November of 2019, Elon Musk ticked off lots of scientists and astronomers by launching SpaceX’s latest program. Called Starlink, it obstructed the night sky for many astronomers by firing 60 satellites into orbit. Launching hundreds of satellites into orbit doesn’t just impact astronomers trying to view the stars, it also impacts other satellites or spacecrafts with the increasing amount of space debris orbiting the earth. In 2013, there was nearly half a million fragments of space junk floating around earth. With a max speed of 17,500 miles per hour, any collision with satellite of spacecraft could cause some serious damage to it.

When created from meteor, space debris can be a natural occurrence, but we’ve gotten to the point where most space debris is derived from man-made objects like “nonfunctional spacecraft, abandoned launch vehicle stages, mission-related debris, and fragmentation debris.” And with more plans to send even more satellites into orbit in such a small timeframe being creating by companies like SpaceX, experts are getting even more worried the ever increasing amount of space traffic.

In order to combat the threat of space debris, the European Space Agency set in motion a space debris removal mission to launch in 2025. ClearSpace, a Switzerland startup plans to spearhead the project, by sending a probe into orbit to “intercept and collect a rocket upper stage from a previous ESA mission as part of a project to jump-start the market for the servicing and disposal of orbiting payloads.” The ClearSpace probe will grab pieces of space debris using it’s four arms and drag it back towards earth, destroying both the space junk and the probe upon reentry into the atmosphere. While it’s a great jumping off point, the $133 million mission isn’t really a sustainable solution for our space debris problem, but it could bring about a better design for a full-time space junk collector.

 

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