A space ‘tow truck’ designed to remove dead satellites from Earth’s orbit has been commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA).
The project, which has received £10 million in backing from the British Government, will begin the monumental task of getting rid of thousands of defunct satellites.
ESA selected a Swiss start-up called ClearSpace for the job of tidying up the planet’s congested orbit, with the first mission expected to launch in 2025.
Clearspace-1 is an unmanned ‘tow truck’ spacecraft specifically designed to target part of an ESA rocket that has been floating about 435 miles above Earth since 2013.
Robotic arms on the spacecraft will grab the defunct rocket segment and retract, ensuring it doesn’t lose its grasp.
The spacecraft will then fire its engine and head back towards Earth, causing both Clearspace-1 and the rocket fragment to burn up in the atmosphere.
‘This is the right time for such a mission,’ ClearSpace founder and chief executive Luc Piguet said.
‘The space debris issue is more pressing than ever before.
‘Today we have nearly 2,000 live satellites in space and more than 3,000 failed ones.
‘And in the coming years the number of satellites will increase by an order of magnitude, with multiple mega-constellations made up of hundreds or even thousands of satellites planned for low Earth orbit.
‘The need is clear for a “tow truck” to remove failed satellites from this highly trafficked region.’
ESA director general Jan Worner hopes the Clearspace-1 mission will pave the way for a new industry of in-orbit 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,’ Mr Worner said.
‘That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue.’