Europe Signs $102M Deal to Bring Space Trash Home

Rodiano Bonacci
Novembre 28, 2020

According to the Paris-based ESA, this contract will establish a new commercial sector in space, since it contemplates the acquisition of the mission from start to finish, instead of developing a spacecraft defined by ESA for its internal operation.

Defunct man-made objects that are orbiting in space, particularly in Earth's orbit are called space debris.

"The space debris issue is more pressing than ever before".

Some of these debris move at speeds of up to 28,163 kmph (17,500 mph) and is fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft. Roughly 95% of the these objects are debris/not-functional satellites.

The agency said Thursday that the deal with ClearSpace SA would lead to the "first active debris removal mission" in 2025, in which a bespoke spacecraft will capture and shoot down part of a rocket formerly used to deploy a satellite in orbit. Several teams are working on ways to tackle the problem. This will be a technology demonstration mission, as the Vespa (the name is an acronym for Vega [rocket] secondary payload adapter) is actually in a "disposal" orbit.

The object being removed from orbit is a so-called Vespa payload adapter that was used to hold and then release a satellite in 2013. It weighs about 112 kilograms (247 pounds) which is nearly the size of a small satellite. It forms part of the agency's Active Debris Removal/In-Orbit Servicing project.

"ClearSpace SA will raise the remainder of the mission cost through commercial investors", the agency said. Although the Swiss company is the lead contractor, it is also receiving support from other enterprises in Switzerland, and in the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK.

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