When Debris Disaster Strikes in Earth Orbit

Credit: ESA

In brief

PARIS (ESA PR) — In 2021 so far, some 2467 new objects large enough to be tracked have been added to world catalogues of orbital objects, out of which 1493 are new satellites and the rest are debris. While new objects are added, others are dragged down to Earth by the atmosphere where they safely burn up, resulting in a net increase of at least 1387 trackable objects between 2020 and 2021.

In addition, an estimated 1500 new objects – an increase of about 5% with respect to the total population – were added just this week, meaning the risk to missions must be reassessed.

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Artificial Intelligence Behind 21st Century Spaceflight

Credit: ESA
  • Maintaining safety of operations and maximising scientific return are key concerns as satellites increase in number and complexity
  • Artificial intelligence offers promising solutions to modern spaceflight challenges
  • ESA and Germany’s DFKI institute have launched a new lab ‘ESA_Lab@DFKI’ for artificial intelligence research

KAISERLAUTERN, Germany (ESA PR) — It’s 4 October 1957, and the Soviet Union has just lofted humanity’s first satellite – Sputnik 1 – into the pristine orbital environment around Earth, marking the start of the Space Age.

Throughout 1960s and 70s, launches quickly increase, as the USA, Soviet Union and other countries race for space, discovering and utilising the immense value of the ‘orbital pathways’ above us – a precious, limited natural resource.

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The Top 50 Most Dangerous Pieces of Space Debris

Location of the 24,000 debris larger than 10 cm in low orbit in 2020. (Credits: NASA)

For the first time, an international team has drawn up a list of the 50 most dangerous space debris in low orbit. This unpublished Top 50 is published online on January 22, 2021 by the journal Acta Astronautica.

PARIS (CNES PR) — It is a landmark article. For the first time, space debris in low orbit (located at an altitude of less than 2,000 km) has been classified according to their dangerousness for operational satellites by a team that includes experts from China, the United States and Russia. France via CNES is one of the signatories of this historic paper published on January 22, 2021 by Acta Astronautica and whose results had already been presented, in October 2020, at the 71st International Astronautical Congress (IAC2020).

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ESA Purchases World-first Debris Removal Mission From Start-up

ClearSpace-1 mission (Credit: ClearSpace)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA has signed an €86 million [$104 million] contract with an industrial team led by Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to purchase a unique service: the first removal of an item of space debris from orbit.

As a result, in 2025, ClearSpace will launch the first active debris removal mission, ClearSpace-1, which will rendezvous, capture and take down for reentry the upper part of a Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) used with Europe’s Vega launcher. This object was left in a ‘gradual disposal’ orbit (approximately altitude 801 km by 664 km), complying with space debris mitigation regulations, following the second flight of Vega in 2013. 

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UK to Play Critical Role in Building ‘the Claw’ – the First Satellite to Remove Space Junk

ClearSpace-1 mission (Credit: ClearSpace)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — Vital technology for the first ever mission to remove a piece of debris from space is going to be built in the UK, the Science Minister has announced.

Planned for 2025, Clearspace-1 is the first ever space mission dedicated to removing an existing object in orbit, and is a significant first step towards a cleaner space environment. The Clearspace-1 satellite – dubbed ‘The Claw’ – will use a pincer motion to collect debris, before giving it a controlled re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere – allowing it to decompose safely and away from life.

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ESA Commissions World’s First Space Debris Removal

ClearSpace-1 (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ClearSpace-1 will be the first space mission to remove an item of debris from orbit, planned for launch in 2025. The mission is being procured as a service contract with a startup-led commercial consortium, to help establish a new market for in-orbit servicing, as well as debris removal.

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