Scientists at the Swiss Space Center at EPFL are woking on a solution to clean the earth's orbit from debris. The amount of debris has become a real problem for space flights and satellites. NASA is tracking at least 16,000 of these objects that are larger than 10 cm in diameter. When an operational spacecraft such as a satellite collides with one of them, serious, costly damage can result; often the satellite is complete destroyed.
“It has become essential to be aware of the existence of this debris and the risks that are run by its proliferation,” says Claude Nicollier, astronaut and EPFL professor. To move beyond mere rhetoric and take immediate action to get this stuff out of orbit, the Swiss Space Center at EPFL is launching CleanSpace One, a project to build the first prototype in a family of “de-orbiting” satellites.
The challenge for CleanSpace One is to grab space garbage traveling at speeds of 28,00 km/h at an altitude of 630-750km. The EPFL scientists work on a three step process to collect space debris. First the CleanSpace One satellite needs to get close to the target debris by adjusting its trajectory. Then a gripping arm is stabilizing the debris. The current idea is to use a gripping mechanism inspired by a plant. In the last step CleanSpace One is heading back into the Earth's atmosphere where CleanSpace One and the collected debris are burn upon re-entry.
Watch a demo video of CleanSpace One below.
More details on the EPFL site.