ESA invests in spacecraft capable of removing space debris

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced its participation. The world’s first mission to remove a few small telecommunications satellites from orbit when they reached the end of their operational service

Space debris is a real danger

In recent years, the number of space debris has increased dramatically. According to the ESA, there are currently about 34,000 objects in Earth orbit larger than 10 cm, about 900,000 from 1 cm to 10 cm and finally, about 128 million from 1 mm to 1 cm. These objects scare you the worst and can lead to serious collisions. This happened significantly on March 18, 2021, when the remnants of the Russian rocket Genet-2 hit the Chinese satellite Yunhai 1-02.

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It is important to ensure responsible use of space to protect today’s interconnected world, as our digital economy and society depend on our ability to communicate Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA. Sometimes, collisions caused by space debris can have more serious consequences; In 2019, the destruction of an Indian satellite directly threatened the International Space Station and its inhabitants. Also, space debris hit the Canadarm2 robotic arm at the station in June 2021.

From now on, the number of satellites is growing rapidly every year, especially since companies like SpaceX, along with Starlink, its Kuiper project with Amazon, or OneWeb, are starring thousands of devices to bring high-speed Internet to remote areas. Of the world.

The ruins of space around the earth.

Earth’s orbits are filled with space debris, and the number is only increasing. Photo: ESA

ESA collaborates with Astroscale and OneWeb

Thousands of satellites are already in orbit, and thousands more are launched each year. And ensure the safety and stability of the place In an ESA press release, George Freeman, the British Minister for Science, explained.

With that in mind, the space agency has decided to invest 14.8 million euros in the design of the ELSA-M, a spacecraft built by the company Astroscale that will be able to move several satellites out of service in a single mission. Its launch is scheduled for the end of 2024. This mission is part of ESA’s Sunrise program; It is not uncommon for the company to collaborate with European companies to encourage innovation in the aerospace industry of the old continent.

OneWeb, the European constellation, is also participating in the project. It has placed 428 satellites in orbit at an altitude of 1,200 km out of the 650 currently planned. Thus, the removal of extraterrestrial satellites by Astroscale’s spacecraft will help it complete its galaxy and maintain low-Earth orbit as a shared resource among other space agencies and entities.

An animated demonstration of how ELSA-D, the predecessor of ELSA-M, captured a small satellite in space:

A service for future satellite operators

While ESA and OneWeb have already collaborated on telecommunications within the framework of the Sunrise program, OneWeb has developed a beam-hopping satellite capable of responding significantly to changes in communication traffic.

Responsible space is the focus of our mission at OneWeb and we are committed to sustainable practice in all the environments in which we operate. The development of the ELSA-M Servant Prototype is another important step towards a responsible approach to space, ensuring that our satellites can be de-orbited and that the environment of the lower Earth orbit is protected as a natural and shared resource. OneWeb’s CTO Massimiliano Ladovaj said.

Following the demonstration of its prototype in 2024, Astroscale aims to provide a debris removal service to satellite operators.

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