CleanSpace concept drawing (via EPFL)
Space is a messy place. According to NASA, it is littered with over ten million pieces of debris orbiting the Earth at a rate of around 36,000 km/h. That junk is potentially hazardous not only to astronauts but can damage or destroy spacecraft and satellites, as well. To combat this problem engineers from the Swiss Space Center at EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) have designed a satellite that performs a kind of intergalactic housekeeping. Called ‘CleanSpace One’, the satellite finds its target and latches on with a grappling mechanism. Once the garbage is taken hold of, CleanSpace One then de-orbits the Earth and both it and the garbage are harmlessly burned up in the planet’s atmosphere. To match the speed of the space junk in orbit, CleanSpace One will use a special ultra-compact motor that is being developed in EPFL labs to catch its target that travels anywhere from 28,000 to 36,000 km/h. The costs for developing and deploying CleanSpace One costs about $10,000,000 Swiss Francs and will be tested in the next five years with the retrieval of either the Swisscube picosatellite (launched in 2007) or the Tlsat (launched in 2010).
This development comes after a long line of other proposed space debris collection. SETI will be used to track debris. . The space station has to move constantly to avoid large bits flying into its path. .
A Messy, and scary, place indeed.