Tuesday, September 24, 2013

CleanSpace One - satellites will drop!

Space junk, there are an estimated 16,000 pieces of space debris in Earth orbit. Debris that is larger than 10 centimeters in diameter. This is a real problem, not only to the active satellites but to space travel which would become far more difficult not to mention expensive as a result.

NASA & Canada have done a lot to assist in the preventing space junk with the RRM (Robotic Refueling Mission). A satellite that perhaps would have lasted only a few years because of running out of fuel can now continue until the equipment fails which as we have seen in many missions that go on decades longer than expected, will extend satellite expectancy quite a bit. Having the fuel prevents them from becoming space junk in a higher orbit or slamming into another satellite because they are unable to change their path. However that still leaves the remaining space junk.

How to remove space trash has been a much discussed political hot button. After all, one country does not necessarily want another country cleaning up its space junk that may be a spy satellite or offer advanced technology. And while there are many plans to make future satellites that plunge back into the atmosphere thanks to micro-thrusters that would be installed, again, the current space debris remains. Description diagram of clean space one

Enter Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Swiss Space Systems (S3) and their newly formed partnership which will launch CleanSpace One. A satellite with a purpose, eliminate space debris.

How will it work? CleanSpace One will rendezvous with a disabled Satellite. A claw will reach out and clamp on, and then CleanSpace One will push the debris (and itself) into a dive into the Earth’s atmosphere. It will be tested with a de-commissioned Swiss nano-satellite.

Their intention is to use a A300 jetliner for the launch, then SOAR takes over. SOAR (Suborbital Re-useable Shuttle) is a robotic, unmanned system that will then fly until it reaches 700km (435 miles) when it will release its payload into orbit. This system will both lower cost and deliver the rubbish removal satellite to orbit. The first CleanSpace One will plunge to its death alongside the satellite it is getting rid of, but the Swiss plan an entire family of the space janitor. It is even possible that one day they will remove more than one at a time.

I think this idea has merit, is long overdue, but I wonder, is there not a way to make CleanSpace One survive the re-entry to do it again? Or perhaps just run at the atmosphere connected to the other satellite and then let go, throwing the other satellite to its death?

Another thought, in my favorite decade, the seventies, you may remember “Quark” – a sitcom about an outer space trash collector. This idea is a good one and while it will take care of the Geosynchronous orbit, perhaps one day we will have a rubbish collector that wanders outer space. Maybe travels to far off Mars and picks up that trash as well!

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