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ClearSpace-1, the world’s first space debris removal mission

on 20 December 2019

ClearSpace-1 will be the first space mission to remove an item of debris from orbit, planned for launch in 2025. The mission is being procured as a service contract with a startup-led commercial consortium, to help establish a new market for in-orbit servicing, as well as debris removal.

Supported within ESA’s new Space Safety programme, the aim is to contribute actively to cleaning up space, while also demonstrating the technologies needed for debris removal.

“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,” says 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.”

“Even if all space launches were halted tomorrow, projections show that the overall orbital debris population will continue to grow, as collisions between items generate fresh debris in a cascade effect,” says Luisa Innocenti, heading ESA’s Clean Space initiative. “We need to develop technologies to avoid creating new debris and removing the debris already up there.

The ClearSpace-1 mission will target the Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter), an upper stage left in orbit after a launch in 2013. With a mass of 100 kg, the Vespa is close in size to a small satellite, while its relatively simple shape and sturdy construction make it a suitable first goal, before progressing to larger, more challenging captures by follow-up missions – eventually including multi-object capture.

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Image credit: ESA