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European Space Agency signs $102 million deal to remove space junk

According to the New York Post, the European Space Agency (ESA) has reportedly signed a 86 million euro ($102 million) contract with a Swiss start-up company to return a large piece of orbital debris to Earth.

The Swiss company, named ClearSpace SA, will lead the first active debris removal mission in 2025. The mission is to capture the Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (Vespa), which was launched to release a satellite back in 2013, and since then has been aimlessly drifting around the Earth. 

Once the so-called ‘chaser’ launches into orbit for initial tests, it’ll rendezvous with the 247-pound Vespa before capturing it with a ‘quartet of robotic arms’, both spacecraft will then deorbit and burn up in the atmosphere.

Luc Piguet, founder and CEO of ClearSpace, earlier stated: “This is the right time for such a mission. The space debris issue is more pressing than ever before. Today we have nearly 2000 live satellites in space and more than 3000 failed ones.”

“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. We need to develop technologies to avoid creating new debris and removing the debris already up there,” added Luisa Innocenti, who’s leading the ESA’s Clean Space initiative.

Space junk could potentially cause huge headaches for spacecraft trying to leave Earth’s gravity, even possibly causing a catastrophic series of events known as Kessler Syndrome. Kessler Syndrome is a theoretical scenario where the space junk in orbit around the Earth collides with one another causing more debris and eventually making it too dangerous to launch any more spacecraft.  Before the situation gets to that tipping point, numerous teams have begun development on technologies to capture or deorbit space junk.

Several other companies have various technologies under development, including the RemoveDEBRIS consortium in the UK and Astroscale out of Japan.  Whichever of these technologies proves to be the most effective, it will require a massive scale-up to address the size of this growing problem.  So expect to see much larger contract amounts for space debris clean up in the not-to-distant future.

ARTICLE: JOSEPH MODICA

SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH

PHOTO CREDITS: UNILAD

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