CleanSpace One - a Swiss satellite to tackle space junk

Space junk is a continuing problem for the world’s space managements as decade’s worth of satellite take-offs and space missions have packed the Earth’s atmosphere with garbage such as fuel tanks, lost tools and parts of deserted satellites. In order to fight this rising hazard and to avoid possibly devastating crashes, the Swiss Space Center at EPFL has launched “CleanSpace One”, a mission to improve and build the first instalment of satellites designed precisely to clean up space wreckage.

Of the thousands of fragments of space junk in orbit, NASA is observing at least 16,000 of these items that are bigger than 10 cm in diameter. This is because if they hit spacecraft or satellites at high speed, huge loss can take place. Not just that, but more junk is produced. Enter CleanSpace One.

“It has turned out to be necessary to be aware of the presence of this wreckage and the risks that are run by its propagation,” says Claude Nicollier, spaceman and EPFL professor. CleanSpace One is the Swiss Space Center’s first model in a family of “de-orbiting” satellites. For its first assignment, the spacecraft will be tasked with pursuing either Switzerland’s first circling object, the Swisscube picosatellite which was put in orbit in 2009, or its cousin TIsat, launched in July 2010.

Though, it won’t be a easy task. Once in orbit, CleanSpace One will have to regulate its route in order to match its target's orbital plane. This is not a simple task and the EPFL are at present working on a new kind of ultra-compact motor to do this. Once it is inside range of its target (which will be roaming at 28,000 km/h at an elevation of 630-750 km), CleanSpace One will have to grasp and stabilize it using a special gripping apparatus. Once this is done, CleanSpace One will “de-orbit” the unwanted satellite by heading back into the Earth’s atmosphere, where the two satellites will burn upon re-entry.

“We want to propose and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as probable, that are able to de-orbit numerous different kinds of satellites,” explains Swiss Space Center Director Volker Gass. “Space agencies are gradually finding it essential to take into consideration and prepare for the removal of the stuff they're sending into space. We want to be the forerunners in this area.”

The design and production of CleanSpace One will cost approximately 10 million Swiss francs, but could also represent a brand new age of orbit clean-up.

Clean Space One

Space Junk

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