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ESA purchases world-first debris removal mission from start-up

on 02 December 2020

ESA has signed an €86 million contract with an industrial team led by Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to purchase a unique service: the first removal of an item of space debris from orbit. Research-Development and Industrial entities from Romania will also participate in the mission.

As a result, in 2025, ClearSpace will launch the first active debris removal mission, ClearSpace-1, which will rendezvous, capture and take down for reentry the upper part of a Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) used with Europe’s Vega launcher. This object was left in a ‘gradual disposal’ orbit (approximately altitude 801 km by 664 km), complying with space debris mitigation regulations, following the second flight of Vega in 2013.

Paying for such a service contract rather than directly procuring and running the entire mission represents a new way for ESA to do business – intended as the first step in establishing a new commercial sector in space.

ClearSpace – a spin-off company established by an experienced team of space debris researchers from EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne – is leading an industrial team that includes companies from several European countries, and contributions will come from enterprises in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Romania.

With a mass of 112 kg, ClearSpace-1’s Vespa target 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.

The ClearSpace-1 mission will initially be launched into a lower 500 km orbit for commissioning and critical tests, before being raised to the target orbit for rendezvous and capture using a quartet of robotic arms, flying under ESA supervision.

You can read more information about this topic at this link.

Image credit: ClearSpace SA