The first-ever space mission to clean orbital junk will use a giant claw

Humza

Posts: 779   +161
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Why it matters: Space debris (or junk) has become an increasing concern for scientists as hundreds of new satellites are launched every year into Earth's orbit, crowding it to the point where thousands of active spacecraft are now at risk of collision with dead satellites and debris. The defunct space equipment not only poses a threat to existing satellite systems but also the prospects of future exploration and studies. Last year, the European Space Agency called for devising a solution to this problem and chose Swiss-startup, ClearSpace, to develop technologies for a space junk removal mission.

The European Space Agency has signed an €86 million contract with ClearSpace for the latter’s space junk removal project, ClearSpace-1. The first-of-its-kind mission is not only new in terms of what it’s setting out to achieve, but also represents a shift in strategy for the ESA, which has chosen a private firm to design and engineer its own spacecraft and plan of execution.

In addition to Switzerland, seven other countries are working on the project, including the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, and the UK. It has also received support from Microsoft, which awarded the Swiss-startup a membership into its Global Social Entrepreneurship Program in June this year.

Expected to launch in 2025, ClearSpace has a March 2021 deadline for satellite design and planning of the mission and has expanded its initial workforce of five to over twenty people since it was picked by the ESA. The company says it will use ESA-developed robotic arm technology for a claw-like device that will target Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter), a leftover from Europe's Vega satellite launch in 2013. Following its capture, the claw will then reenter Earth's atmosphere where heat due to compression and drag will take care of the rest, burning the claw and its victim.

Of course, a single cleanup mission won’t take care of all the debris and ~3,000 dead satellites in orbit, which is why the Swiss-startup is looking forward to establishing itself as a long-term junk removal business in this space. As other commercial projects like tourism and Starlink take off, expect such missions to be more frequent in the future, too.

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Endymio

Posts: 1,340   +1,214
There are 500,000+ pieces of debris in NEO -- the smaller objects are much more of a danger than the "3,000 dead satellites" the article references. This $102 million mission will remove one of those items. It's the European governmental version of virtue-signalling: it makes one feel good, but does nothing but waste resources.

You can't even claim this is a decent start towards an actual solution, because though technological solutions have been proposed, orbit-matching with a giant claw is not one of them. It will never, ever become a practical method of addressing the problem.
 
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wiyosaya

Posts: 5,578   +3,763
There are 500,000+ pieces of debris in NEO -- the smaller objects are much more of a danger than the "3,000 dead satellites" the article references. This $102 million mission will remove one of those items. It's the European governmental version of virtue-signalling: it makes one feel good, but does nothing but waste resources.

You can't even claim this is a decent start towards an actual solution, because though technological solutions have been proposed, orbit-matching with a giant claw is not one of them. It will never, ever become a practical method of addressing the problem.
Ever heard of the concept of testing your solution - you know, so you can work out unintended consequences? Never mind. Stupid question. ;)
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,340   +1,214
Ever heard of the concept of testing your solution
Which part of "this will never be a solution" did you not understand? There are a dozen reasons why this will never be practical, starting with the fact that by any reasonable estimate of mission failure rates, it will in the long run generate more debris than it removes.

Now, laser-based inertial ablation systems have promise, as do a number of other approaches. But giant space claws are more suited for James Bond films than actual solutions.
 
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Reehahs

Posts: 1,074   +711
Which part of "this will never be a solution" did you not understand? There are a dozen reasons why this will never be practical, starting with the fact that by any reasonable estimate of mission failure rates, it will in the long run generate more debris than it removes.

Now, laser-based inertial ablation systems have promise, as do a number of other approaches. But giant space claws are more suited for James Bond films than actual solutions.
Big things become small things overtime.

Big things are easier to deal with in space then the small things with current technology.

The downstream effect would be less small things.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,797   +6,452
Considering how much the USA has contributed to this orbiting junk yard, we should heavily invest or at least duplicate this effort AND Elon Musk should be required a reasonable contribution considering all those 50,000+ satalite's that he's now going to make a profit from ..... 💫
 
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mbrowne5061

Posts: 1,735   +988
Just FYI, the Starlink satellites are designed to deorbit at the end of their service lives. In fact they have already done some:
https://spacenews.com/spacex-launches-starlink-satellites-as-it-deorbits-original-ones/
Most satellites launched in the US and Europe now are required to have EOL plans. They are either de-orbited, or are boosted up into a designated graveyard orbit (usually at or near GSO-altitudes). Of course, older satellites are still up there and you can't do much about them because they don't have any fuel left - I wonder if anyone has thought about doing refueling missions, just to see if you could give them enough gas to kill themselves.

No, the bigger concern going forward are stray rocket parts, like farings, as these were unpowered to begin with. Not much you can do about them without some kind of orbital 'garbage truck' to clean things up.
 
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OortCloud

Posts: 502   +334
There are 500,000+ pieces of debris in NEO -- the smaller objects are much more of a danger than the "3,000 dead satellites" the article references. This $102 million mission will remove one of those items. It's the European governmental version of virtue-signalling: it makes one feel good, but does nothing but waste resources.

You can't even claim this is a decent start towards an actual solution, because though technological solutions have been proposed, orbit-matching with a giant claw is not one of them. It will never, ever become a practical method of addressing the problem.
I'm sure you know much more about this than the ESA and all the other companies funding it and I wonder why all these very bright people didn't just listen to the real expert - you! Oh well too late now eh!
 

GeforcerFX

Posts: 985   +454
Just FYI, the Starlink satellites are designed to deorbit at the end of their service lives. In fact they have already done some:
https://spacenews.com/spacex-launches-starlink-satellites-as-it-deorbits-original-ones/
assuming they all work correctly then yes, but with 50,000 satellites, let alone cheap satellites the chances of failure are pretty high. You have to have something like this to be able to go properly take care of the satellite constellation. Spacex will have that capability eventually with starship.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,340   +1,214
the bigger concern going forward are stray rocket parts, like farings, as these were unpowered to begin with. Not much you can do about them without some kind of orbital 'garbage truck' to clean things up.
For objects in NEO, these will eventually deorbit on their own, to to perturbation effects and atmospheric drag. For orbital decay, there's a logarithmic relationship based on altitude -- smaller objects below 600km only have a lifespan of a few decades.

This isn't true for geosynchronous objects, of course, but I see that orbital shell losing most or all its value within the next 30-40 years. With intelligent beamforming antenna technology, having a satellite at a fixed point on the horizon just isn't worth the vastly higher cost of boosting a satellite that high in the first place.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,340   +1,214
I'm sure you know much more about this than the ESA and all the other companies funding it
The ESA is, like all governmental agencies, primarily concerned with its own budget and image. Look at NASA: they spent $200B and 30+ years on a space shuttle program that never even came close to filling its original design goals.
 
There are 500,000+ pieces of debris in NEO -- the smaller objects are much more of a danger than the "3,000 dead satellites" the article references. This $102 million mission will remove one of those items. It's the European governmental version of virtue-signalling: it makes one feel good, but does nothing but waste resources.

You can't even claim this is a decent start towards an actual solution, because though technological solutions have been proposed, orbit-matching with a giant claw is not one of them. It will never, ever become a practical method of addressing the problem.
Absolutely agreed. Most of these objects are the size of an apple and those can still obliterate a satellite. There's no hope at all of stopping the debris runaway without removing some of the smaller objects (and all of the larger objects).

Considering how much the USA has contributed to this orbiting junk yard, we should heavily invest or at least duplicate this effort AND Elon Musk should be required a reasonable contribution considering all those 50,000+ satalite's that he's now going to make a profit from ..... 💫
Absolutely. New use of space has to pay to keep the environment sustainable. With 3-4 megaconstellations being launched now, it's ridiculous to think what the consequences will be even as soon as 2030.

Big things become small things overtime.

Big things are easier to deal with in space then the small things with current technology.

The downstream effect would be less small things.
Sure, but small things also cause big things to become small things. Removing big objects is not the only solution - and is definitely not the whole solution. Who's going to pay to deorbit all the current rocket bodies, for example?

Also, note the price of this mission. And that's to remove ONE part of a previous mission, with 3+ parts in total. That's more expensive, in total, than the original mission. Economically, removing big objects doesn't work.

Most satellites launched in the US and Europe now are required to have EOL plans. They are either de-orbited, or are boosted up into a designated graveyard orbit (usually at or near GSO-altitudes). Of course, older satellites are still up there and you can't do much about them because they don't have any fuel left - I wonder if anyone has thought about doing refueling missions, just to see if you could give them enough gas to kill themselves.

No, the bigger concern going forward are stray rocket parts, like farings, as these were unpowered to begin with. Not much you can do about them without some kind of orbital 'garbage truck' to clean things up.
No-one is REQUIRED to have an EOL plan. Everyone has to show a plan, but it's not mandated. It's more of a recommendation. There are still satellites being launched without proper EOL provisions.

For objects in NEO, these will eventually deorbit on their own, to to perturbation effects and atmospheric drag. For orbital decay, there's a logarithmic relationship based on altitude -- smaller objects below 600km only have a lifespan of a few decades.

This isn't true for geosynchronous objects, of course, but I see that orbital shell losing most or all its value within the next 30-40 years. With intelligent beamforming antenna technology, having a satellite at a fixed point on the horizon just isn't worth the vastly higher cost of boosting a satellite that high in the first place.
Below 600km, yes. From 600-1200km, objects have lifetimes upto hundreds of years. Those are a problem even now.

I'm sure you know much more about this than the ESA and all the other companies funding it and I wonder why all these very bright people didn't just listen to the real expert - you! Oh well too late now eh!
People with money don't have the solutions. Look at astroscale - no useful or proven technology and they've raised $205m.
 
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