Space debris cleanup mission gets easier target

The European Space Agency has made significant changes to the ClearSpace-1 mission. It has a new target.

ClearSpace in the artist’s impression. Source: ClearSpace

In 2020, ESA signed a contract worth 86 million euros with the Swiss startup ClearSpace SA. It has committed to carrying out the first ever mission to actively de-orbit a fragment of space debris. In the future, this technology could be used to combat other objects that pose a danger to existing spacecraft.

ClearSpace’s choice fell on the VESPA, a payload adapter mounted on the upper stage of the Vega rocket. It was used at the launch of the Proba-V satellite in 2013. The mass of the adapter was 112 kg, it was in orbit with a perigee of 660 km and an apogee of 800 km. Experts chose VESPA because of the combination of a relatively simple shape and a robust design, which should have simplified the task of its descent from orbit.

However, in August 2023, the U.S. Air Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron reported the appearance of several objects near VESPA. Experts believe that they were formed as a result of its collision with another fragment of space debris, which led to the formation of debris and caused the rotation of the adapter. As a result, ESA had to look for another, less risky target for ClearSpace-1.

As a result, the 94-kilogram Proba-1 satellite was chosen as a replacement. It is in orbit with a perigee of 561 km and an apogee of 681 km. Despite the fact that the spacecraft was launched in 2001, it still keeps operational and remains under the control of operators, which reduces the risk of rotation during its cleaning operation. 

Proba-1 satellite (concept). Source: ESA

The mission plan is as follows. ClearSpace will approach Proba-1 and capture the satellite using a claw with four “hands”. After that, it uses its thrusters to drag it into a lower orbit, which will accelerate the spacecraft’s entry into the atmosphere. Clearspace has already booked a Vega C rocket for this mission. However, the launch date of the space cleaner has not yet been announced.

According to

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