Swiss Space Center Looks to Clean Up Space Junk
How many times have you seen an empty, half-crushed bag lying in the middle of the street and swerved to avoid it? That has to be some kind of species paranoia at work. You never can tell what might be in the bag that might mess up your car, right? How about the sudden horror of realizing you don’t have time to swerve before you hit the bag. Do you breathe a little easier when your car doesn’t explode after you pass over it?
Now imagine instead of just sitting there, maybe blowing a bit in the wind, that the junk in your path was moving at close to 17,400 mph. Imagine sitting on the International Space Station watching a chunk of space trash no more than a foot long zipping toward you, knowing it could kill everyone on board. Ditto for manned space flights.
This is the problem confronting those involved in space exploration, and all that junk floating around isn’t just a threat to people. Each time a piece of debris hits a satellite, the collision generates more debris, and so on and so on. NASA keeps an eye on nearly 16,000 pieces of space junk at least 10 cm long. The pure volume of trash floating around above us has the potential to cripple communications and cost billions of dollars in damage.
It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation. –Claude Nicollier, astronaut and EPFL professor
We’ve covered potential solutions before, but the Swiss Space Center at EPFL has begun to work on a new solution to the problem of space rubbish by designing a satellite called the CleanSpace One. This satellite will be the first of what they hope is a family of satellites whose sole purpose is to clean up near earth orbit.
The CleanSpace One is intended to work by singling out a defunct satellite or large piece of space junk, then latching onto it with a claw or other grappling device. Junk firmly in hand, CleanSpace One will move to fall out of orbit, burning up itself and the trash it caught during re-entry. Maneuvers in space are to be accomplished by a compact motor designed specifically for space applications by EPFL.
Below you’ll find a video about the CleanSpace One.