Cleaning of the Earth’s Orbit from Debris Will Begin in 2025

ESA will launch into orbit a probe to destroy space debris in 2025. According to an official statement from the European Space Agency, the first goal of the ClearSpace-1 satellite will be the proven Vega rocket stage,.

What Does It Encompass?

The four-armed space debris collection robot will be launched into space by the European Space Agency (ESA). This will be the first mission to analyze blockages in orbit caused by human activity. According to The Guardian , the launch of ClearSpace-1 is scheduled for 2025 and will cost 120 million euros. In total, the robot will take only one piece of orbital debris. But the agency hopes that the mission will open the way for a broader operation to clear the orbit. And the CEO called for the creation of new rules that will apply to everyone who launches new satellites. Particularly, he wants the owners of the apparatus to be responsible for further disposal after the end of the operational period.

The ClearSpace-1 probe will be the first test spacecraft to capture a real piece of debris from orbit and drag it away. It is planned that the satellite will go into orbit in 2025 at an altitude of 500 km.

“Imagine that all sea ships lost over the past centuries would drift over the surface of the oceans. This is exactly what is happening in orbit, and this situation can no longer continue. Therefore, all ESA member countries have actively supported this mission,” said the head of the European Space Agency Johann-Dietrich Woerner.

The main goal of ClearSpace-1 will be the second stage of the Vega rocket, launched into orbit in 2013. Now it is located at an altitude of 660-800 km. The mass of the rocket is only 100 kg, and its shape is convenient enough to be able to capture it with the help of four robotic arms of the probe.

After docking, ClearSpace-1 will turn on the engines and drop into the lower atmosphere, where it will burn together with the spent Vega stage.

If the experiment is successful, engineers will be able to create more complex devices that will collect not one, but several objects of space debris.

Vega Rocket

The first successful launch of the Vega light class launcher took place in February 2012. On May 2, 2013, it was planned to start the second launch of the Vega launch vehicle from the Kourou launch site.

The European Space Agency contributed to the Vega launch vehicle which was the result of cooperation between them and the Italian Space Agency. A one-time four-stage Vega with a length of 30 meters and a diameter of 3 meters is designed to launch satellites weighing 300-2000 kg into polar circular low orbits. The launch mass of the rocket is 137 tons.

Recently, the European Vega lightweight carrier rocket successfully launched the Italian remote sensing satellite (PRISMA) into solar-synchronous Earth orbit.  It is worth to admit that rocket was equipped with a Ukrainian engine. This was reported by the press service of the SE "Southern Design Bureau".

The launch was carried out on March 22 from the Kourou Cosmodrome in French Guiana. This is the 14th launch under the Vega program and the first in 2019.

The 879 kg PRISMA spacecraft is a small satellite of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The main task of the satellite is to demonstrate the operation of a new powerful electro-optical instrument. It combines a hyperspectral device and a black and white camera. The hyperspectral device will conduct observations in 239 spectral ranges, from visible and near-infrared (VNIR) to short-wave infrared (SWIR). PRISMA will help in monitoring agricultural and water resources, environmental conditions. The expected life of the satellite is 5 years.

Space Debris

Today, tons of space debris is a threat to spacecraft in Earth orbit. Space debris is an artificial object in Earth’s orbit: rocket shell fragments, broken satellites, waste, and launch components. For the first time, experts started talking about the threats of this phenomenon back in the 70s of the past century. The topic was raised by NASA astrophysicist Donald Kessler.

He argued that over time, there would be so much debris in the Earth’s orbit that further exploration of space and rocket launches would simply become impossible. The “chain reaction”, involving debris collisions with lethal vehicles that result in new waste has been called Kessler syndrome.

From space blankets to lasers, scientists have different ideas on how to deal with near-Earth clogging. Today, more than 7 tons of man-made space debris revolve around the Earth. Its largest accumulation falls on the geostationary and solar-synchronous orbits ⏤ the area where most of the work of spacecraft is carried out. Large objects (larger than 10 cm) are tracked, cataloged and monitored by international programs under the direction of the Space Debris Coordination Committee.

However, not all objects can be tracked. According to NASA estimates, the certain number of fragments is too small to be fixed. And since garbage moves at a speed of about 28 thousand km / h, even a collision with the smallest particles can damage the skin and sensitive instruments of satellites and orbital stations. People are also at risk: even a grain of sand is capable of causing damage to spacesuits of astronauts entering outer space.

At the moment, there is no single and most effective method of dealing with the garbage or preventing its occurrence. However, experts from world space agencies, research institutes, and commercial organizations are constantly considering options for solving this problem.

By the way, NASA plays a prominent role in financing and implementing pollution abatement programs. So, in December 2017, the Space Debris Sensor (SDS), developed by the agency’s specialists, was installed on the ISS. In the next 2-3 years, it will collect information about the smallest fragments, their number, size, and speed of movement. Additionally, NASA changes the fuel for rockets that contribute to the development of environmentally friendly programs devoted to discovering space.

It is worth to remind that on July 9 of this year, the controllers of the European Space Agency (ESA) discovered a threat to the satellite Cryosat 2, studying glaciers. It could encounter a piece of space debris. Having considered the probability of such an outcome, the operators on the ground were forced to raise the satellite 122 meters above the prescribed course. A successful maneuver made it possible to avoid damage that could be serious, despite the small size of the wreckage.

This is just one of the episodes that demonstrate that the pollution of the space around our planet is a very real problem. That’s why the launch of ClearSpace-1 is devoted to lay the foundation for cleaning missions in space.