ClearSpace, a Swiss space company, has secured clearance from the European Space Agency after the company’s first program review of its efforts to clear junk from Earth orbit by using a giant, four-armed robotic satellite to capture debris.
What goes up must come down—especially in the case of debris and defunct satellites left orbiting Earth—and ClearSpace is on a continued path towards making that happen.
The company announced this week that it got the green light from ESA on the first major review of the company’s plans for ClearSpace-1—a claw-like spacecraft that will grab onto space debris and send it into Earth’s atmosphere to burn up. After passing proof-of-concept testing in October of last year, ClearSpace says it will now begin the process of finalizing designs, securing equipment, and building the full-scale ClearSpace-1 for a scheduled launch in 2026.
“Along with an experienced European industrial team and the close collaboration with ESA, we were able to reach this important milestone in an effective and technologically sound manner,” said Muriel Richard-Noca, ClearSpace CTO and co-founder, in a press release.
ESA first revealed that it commissioned the ClearSpace-1 project from the titular company in September 2019, with a then-scheduled launch in 2025. The contract between ESA and ClearSpace totaled 86.2 million Euros, which was equivalent to around $103 million at that time. Upon launch of ClearSpace-1 in 2026, the company’s plan is to demonstrate the satellite’s grabbing ability by targeting a Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (Vespa) upper stage left behind by a 2013 launch of an ESA Vega rocket, which is upwards of 500 miles (800 kilometers) above Earth’s surface.
ESA has continued its interest in cracking down on the amount of space debris left behind by space operations in Earth orbit. At the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher reportedly expressed the agency’s commitment to “a zero debris policy,” as quoted in SpaceNews.
While it seems logical to compel space-faring entities to ensure that their satellites and rocket stages come down after the completion of their missions, ESA is right when it comes to funding projects like ClearSpace-1 and the Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System (ADEO) braking sail to remove pre-existing space junk hurtling through space.