Space junk is a major problem, and a Swiss satellite hopes to help clean up near-Earth orbit
Swiss researchers plan to launch a janitor satellite that will be able to help reduce the amount of space debris currently orbiting Earth.
Space debris is a mix of decommissioned satellites, rocket stages, and collected junk from the ISS and other missions.
The CleanSpace One, designed and manufactured by the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne, is an $11 million aircraft that will be first used to clean up two Swiss satellites.
“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” said Claude Nicollier, astronaut and professor, in a press statement.
It’s going to be difficult for CleanSpace One to accomplish its mission, as debris can travel upwards of 17,500 miles per hour. The satellite must enter the appropriate trajectory, secure a hold of the debris, and transport the particles back into the Earth’s atmosphere.
If a mistake is made, however, the debris could tear through the satellite, adding thousands more pieces of junk into space.
Swiss space experts hope to launch CleanSpace One within the next five years, and could lead to a fleet of space-cleaning satellites.
Researchers are collecting information about near-Earth space debris by using ground-based radars, manned space missions, and telescopes.
Space junk is a growing problem that researchers are unsure how to solve, with satellites and aircraft at risk when entering orbit. In 2009, NASA monitored space debris and the orbiting junk forced astronauts aboard the International Space Station to enter escape pods in case of impact.
The growing amount of debris also poses a risk to people on Earth, with satellite debris also crashing back to Earth on a more frequent basis.
The Johnson Space Center hosts the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, which is responsible for studying space debris. Working with international space experts, NASA hopes to be able to monitor debris and avoid future space safety problems.