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Swiss satellite being sent to clean up the mess in outer space

Swiss satellite being sent to ...
A depiction of CleanSpace One, closing in on an expired picosatellite
A depiction of CleanSpace One, closing in on an expired picosatellite
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The CleanSpace One satellite is being designed to grab expired satellites from orbit, and bring them back to Earth
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The CleanSpace One satellite is being designed to grab expired satellites from orbit, and bring them back to Earth
A depiction of CleanSpace One, closing in on an expired picosatellite
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A depiction of CleanSpace One, closing in on an expired picosatellite

NASA currently monitors approximately 17,000 pieces of space junk that are orbiting the earth at extremely high speeds. These odds and ends consist of things like dead satellites, spent rocket stages and parts that have broken off of spacecraft. As the amount of junk increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for functioning satellites to avoid colliding with it. When collisions do occur, the satellite is often destroyed, with the resulting debris further adding to the problem. Scientists from Swiss research institute EPFL, however, have decided that enough is enough - they're currently developing a small satellite known as CleanSpace One, which will be tasked with grappling expired satellites and pulling them back to Earth.

The first CleanSpace One prototype will, appropriately enough, be sent after one of two non-functioning Swiss satellites - the Swisscube picosatellite, or its cousin, the TIsat.

The CleanSpace One satellite is being designed to grab expired satellites from orbit, and bring them back to Earth
The CleanSpace One satellite is being designed to grab expired satellites from orbit, and bring them back to Earth

Once launched, CleanSpace One will have to match the target satellite's orbital plane of 630-750 kilometers (391-466 miles) above sea level. In order to do so, it will have to adjust its trajectory, using an ultra-compact motor that is still in development at EPFL.

Next, once it's within range of its quarry, it will have to grasp and stabilize it. This should prove challenging, as the dead satellite will be moving at 28,000 km/h (17,398 mph), and could be rotating. An appropriate gripping mechanism will need to be created, which EPFL states will be "inspired from a plant or animal example."

Finally, once CleanSpace One has captured its target, the two of them will head out of orbit and towards the earth, where they will both burn up in the atmosphere. So yes, the prototype will be going on a suicide mission, but a whole line of CleanSpace-inspired satellites are planned for the future, each one capable of capturing and destroying a different type of satellite.

The orbital rendezvous of CleanSpace One and one of the two picosatellites could be taking place within three to five years, depending on funding and availability of industrial partners.

More information is available in the video below.

Source: EPFL via Popular Science

CleanSpace One - a Swiss satellite to tackle space junk

24 comments
Kyle Baker
Fascinating.
Michael Gene
I would think sovereign nations will have take serious issue with them touching even a disabled/obsolete satellite not to mention at $5000 or so to put a Kilo into orbit this idea seems a wee bit wasteful.
Brian Maxwell
Theres a anime called "PlanetES", based entirely on this. Check the trailer, its a good series.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DakRYsUIiIE
tgongol
does anyone else think that if the grappling device resembles an arcade claw machine as it does in the photo above they might as well give up the project now?
Slowburn
It seems to me that putting a satellite into a retro-grade orbit with a big electromagnet and ion engine would be more effective, especially against the smaller harder to see and avoid debris. .............................................................................................................................
re; tgongol
Lets see, four arms instead of three, appropriately sized for the target. Nope, no resemblance what so ever.
Pres
Lets see... the US has put most of the junk up there but the Swiss are willing to clean it up (somewhat). However, the US does nothing about it. (except continue to put more junk up there) What is wrong with this picture?
agulesin
Star Wars here we come. How long before some rogue nation makes one to take another\'s satellite out of service? :-)
Dawar Saify
There sending more junk up there to clean up, clearly a reusable platform has to be used, not wasting flight after flight how many? 10 000 flights, this is ridiculous, how could they even think of this. What\'s going on? A reusable platform can shoot down satellites, or release and attach small rockets which guide the object down. Or in one go send atleast 20 such cleaning satellites.
Slowburn
re; Pres
The USofA has been working to minimize the new debris generated since the 1980s and has been looking for cost effective ways to remove debris from orbit.
ajwkuryakyn
@ Pres, stop thinking we're the cause of the entire planet's problems. Read this and pipe-down: http://www.gizmag.com/pentagon-wants-orbital-space-debris-solution/13074/ You better pray to God you don't have a smart phone, satellite tv, or use Google Maps.
Added to that: countries hire NASA and other agencies around all parts of the world to help with their research since they cannot afford an entire launch mission (understandably). Pay 1/32 of the cost to get all the information you wanted without paying billions because multiple nations chipped in, and you now have an affordable one-off space program. USA/NASA is only a small part of the entire missions sent up; funded by various people/countries. "What's wrong with this picture?" What's wrong is that everyone like YOU who takes a shot at America is just following a trend, riding the bandwagon, and never looks at their own life/country first. Just think if we said that our country will no longer be the "World Police" that everyone says we are, and no longer helped anyone ever again... THEN what would everyone say? I'm not saying my country is perfect, but the moment you think America is the worst place on Earth and responsible for everyone's problems and never bother to look at your own past, is the day you publicly prove your own ignorance.