More than 16,000 pieces of “space junk” currently orbit the Earth. This debris includes non-functioning satellites and burned-off pieces from former space flights.
Satellites tend to cluster in similar orbits and pose serious threats to space faring technology as well as to the International Space Station. This may become a thing of the past due to a partnership that’s been announced between the Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Swiss Space Systems (S3) to launch the CleanSpace One satellite into orbit to collect space debris using a launch system that promises to be cheaper than using conventional techniques.
The CleanSpace One satellite, under development by EPFL and scheduled to launch in 2018, is designed to rendezvous with a disabled satellite. Once in place, a claw reaches out, clamps on to the debris, and CleanSpace One pushes both the debris and itself into a nose dive into the Earth’s atmosphere. The launch system uses the Suborbital Reusable Shuttle (SOAR), a small unmanned shuttle, taken aloft by an A300 jet airliner. At an altitude of about 10 km (33,000 ft), the SOAR is released and flies under its own power to an altitude of 80 km (263,000 ft). It then launches a rocket booster stage that flies to an altitude of 700 km (435 mi), where it releases its payload into orbit.
It’s estimated that this innovative system will cuts launch costs by a factor of four. For it’s first test, it will rendezvous with a de-commissioned Swiss nanosatellite measuring only 10 cm (3.9 in) wide. Can’t wait to see how this plays out. If successful, it will likely take years to clean up our planet’s orbit but it certainly would make it safer for future space exploration. And it will be a terrific new way to recycle ols technology!