Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA has received a $104 million (£86 million) contract to remove all debris from the space. The contract was awarded by the European Space Agency (ESA) and would be the first world’s mission for debris removal. Jan Worner, ESA Director General, said that the mission is referred to as ClearSpace-1. He added that the main mission’s target is to gather space debris that is active. 

On 13th November, ClearSpace signed the contract with ESA. Contrary to other ESA contracts that allow the agency to procure and coordinate the mission, ClearSpace-1 involves buying a service. ESA said that it hopes this mission would develop a commercial sector, especially for the European industry.  

Apart from the £86 million given by ESA, ClearSpace will receive an extra £24 million from commercial investors. In this £24 million, £14 million would be used in the mission, while the remaining £10 million is for contingencies. This is according to Valeria Andreoni, the ESA spokesperson. ESA is expected to provide the technology that would be used in the mission. The agency’s Clean Space initiative is the developer of this innovative technology and will also be part of Active Debris Removal. The technology to be used would include vision-based AI, control and navigation systems, advanced guidance, and robotic arms. 

Among the objects to be retrieved is the 112-kilogram Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (Vespa), which is situated in orbit at about 664 by 801 km. The object’s main target is that it is almost the same weight and size that of a small satellite. The ClearSpace-1 weighs 500 kilograms and would be launched in 2025 using the Vega-C rocket. The vehicle has advanced features such as radar and LIDAR for navigation, cameras, and four tentacles for capturing the target object. 

After the ClearSpace-1 aircraft is launched, it will be tested and commissioned in a 500 km orbit. Then it will be moved at a higher target orbit for capture, and this procedure would be automated. After capturing the target object, the ClearSpace-1 aircraft, together with its payload, will move to a destructive orbit and burn in the atmosphere. 

Luc Piguet, ClearSpace CEO, said that after the accomplishment of this mission, the company is planning to carry out a series of follow-up missions. He added that the company aims at getting an aircraft that can capture various objects at once, reducing the service costs. Piguet said that ClearSpace has also contacted different smallsats operators such as Iridium and OneWeb.

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