ESA signs contract with ClearSpace to clean up space debris

The ESA has signed a contract with an industrial team led by ClearSpace SA worth €86 million to remove a specific piece of space debris. Under the contract, ClearSpace SA will launch the first active debris removal mission known as ClearSpace-1. That mission will rendezvous with, capture, and push a Vespa payload adapter in the atmosphere where it will burn up.

On December 1 at 1330 CET, mission experts will give an overview of the project status, explain the mission design in detail, and explain the next steps leading to launch. The mission is currently set to launch in 2025. ClearSpace SA is planning the contract following a competitive process to choose a company to provide the debris removal service. ClearSpace is a spinoff from EPFL and was invited to submit the final proposal for the mission.

The mission is an end-to-end service contract and represents a new way for the ESA to do business rather than developing an ESA spacecraft for in-house operation. The contract has ESA purchasing the initial mission and contributing key expertise to the Active Debris Removal/In-Orbit Servicing project within the ESA Space Safety Program.

Despite the €86 million price tag for the mission, that's not enough to completely fund it. ClearSpace SA will raise the remainder of the mission cost through commercial investors. ClearSpace-1 will target the Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter), currently orbiting in an 801 kilometer by 664-kilometer altitude gradual disposal orbit complying with debris mitigation regulations.

The object has a mass of 112 kilograms and is close to the size of a small satellite. ESA points out that with 60 years of space activities, more than 5550 launches have resulted in around 42,000 tracked objects in orbit. About 23,000 of that number remain in space and are regularly tracked. Launch rates today are averaging nearly 100 per year, with breakups continuing to occur at average historical rates of 4 to 5 per year. The ESA says the number of debris objects in space will steadily increase. ClearSpace-1 is meant to demonstrate the technical ability and commercial capacity to significantly enhance spaceflight's long-term sustainability.