Brit Liggett

Switzerland to Launch Self-Destructing "Janitor" Satellite to Clean Up Space Junk

by , 02/16/12

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In the last century earthlings have launched innumerable satellites into the atmosphere – most of which are still floating around messing with operational equipment circling the Earth. Fortunately, Switzerland just announced plans to launch a satellite in the next three to five years that will clean up all that space junk. Dubbed CleanSpace One, the $11 million satellite will remove unwanted objects from the atmosphere by grabbing a hold of them and jettisoning itself and the object into the Earth’s atmosphere, where they will both burn up upon re-entry.

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“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 École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lusanne professor. People have been talking about getting rid of this space junk for a while – an Italian scientist proposed a plan last year, NASA thought they might be able to zap the stuff with lasers and DARPA came up with a plan to cannibalize a satellite to get rid of the junk, but none have followed through.

Enter the trusty Swiss – they’ll soon be taking this “rhetoric” and turning it into action with their CleanSpace One. Once launched, the satellite will orbit the Earth and will be able to adjust its trajectory once a piece of junk is spotted. The junk could be traveling at speeds of up to 17,000 miles per hour, so that adjustment must be precise and speedy in order to capture the stuff. CleanSpace One will be outfitted with a kind of claw — much like the one you’d find in an arcade game — that will reach out and snatch up the junk and then take its suicidal dive towards Earth. The atmosphere will most surely burn it up — as it did with this failed Russian satellite. The janitor satellite only gets one shot before it combusts, meaning the Swiss are going to have to make a whole heck of a lot of these to clean up the estimated 4 million pounds of debris out there.

The Swiss see a future in this business and set to take a firm hold of the untapped industry. “We want to offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites,” explains Swiss Space Center Director Volker Gass. “Space agencies are increasingly finding it necessary to take into consideration and prepare for the elimination of the stuff they’re sending into space. We want to be the pioneers in this area.”

Via The Daily Mail

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1 Comment

  1. Gr82bgreen October 5, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    $11million is an awful lot for one potshot at a single piece of debris, when there are 15999 left to clamp and destroy: What is the impact on our atmosphere with every launch and re-entry.

    Surely there ought to be a tax paid for every launch which is pooled together to create a fund for the collective gathering of rubbish.

    Maybe the creation of a programmable device that attaches itself to a piece of junk then eats it’s matter so it essentially dissolves ( sort of like a metal consuming parasite).

    It could involve a unified manned mission which releases the devices to combat the most threatening pieces of junk.

    So much rubbish all over the planet, in the oceans and floating around it. Shameful and depressing treatment of our life vessel.

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