There’s a lot of trash on the earth. That’s why we have people and machines that help clean it up. There’s also a lot of trash in space. There’s nobody cleaning that up - until now.
École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL for short, has announced CleanSpace One. It’s a program designed to build numerous satellites dedicated to cleaning up space debris.
EPFL says that space trash is a growing problem that needs to be addressed now. NASA tracks about 16,000 objects that are considered space trash. When they collide with a satellite, bad things can happen.
The first launch of the janitor satellite will target one of the two objects currently orbiting around earth - the Swisscube picosatellite launched in 2009 or TIsat that was launched in 2010. Both satellites were made by Swiss citizens.
EPFL says that CleanSpace One has three technological hurdles to overcome if it is to be successful. If they are able to successfully create this satellite, they will be able to apply these technologies to future inventions.
After launch, the satellite will use a new ultra-compact motor to align itself with the orbit of the offending space trash. The space trash will be traveling at speeds of 17,000 MPH at an altitude of 466 miles. CleanSpace One will use a grappling arm to grab and stabilize the trash. From there, CleanSpace One will drag the trash down into the atmosphere where they will both burn up upon reentry.
You would think that making a satellite just to have it end up being destroyed would be expensive. If you were thinking that, you would be right. The maiden voyage is estimated to cost about 10 million Swiss francs or a little over $10 million. The first mission could take place within three to five years depending on funding.
EPFL hopes to turn CleanSpace One into a business. They want to be pioneers in the field of space custodians. If they want to actually sell these things, they better fix that burning up on reentry part. They hope to make the program as sustainable as possible as companies probably don’t want to spend $10 million to clean up each piece of space trash.
Here’s a video showcasing the new technology and what it means to be a space janitor: