The European Space Agency has announced the first-ever mission to retrieve a piece of space trash while it is in orbit around our planet. Called ClearSpace-1, the mission is taking place under a consortium being led by ClearSpace, a startup located in Switzerland. The ESA has granted the consortium permission to send in a final proposal for the project, which is scheduled to take place in March 2020.
The ClearSpace-1 mission will target a piece of space debris owned by the ESA, which says the object is inactive and located in low-Earth orbit. Assuming it is successful, the mission will serve to demonstrate technologies that can be used to pluck space trash from orbit, paving the way for future missions to clean up space.
Thousands of active and dead satellites are currently in orbit around our planet, an issue that is expected to grow in coming years as more institutions and nations launch satellites and spacecraft. This debris is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the danger it poses to future launches and active satellites.
ESA Director General Jan Wörner helped put the matter into perspective, stating:
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. That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue. ESA’s Member States have given their strong support to this new mission, which also points the way forward to essential new commercial services in the future.
Both NASA and the ESA are in agreement that large space debris must be removed in order to ‘stabilize the orbital environment.’ The reason is that large space debris often ends up colliding at some point, causing pieces to shatter and break off. These collisions result in the creation of even more, though smaller, debris that joins the growing mass of trash.
The ESA has scheduled the ClearSpace-1 mission for 2025.