Foxar for ClearSpace
Space is not an infinite void. With the uncontrolled commercialization of satellites and space, and as yet no international treaty to limit debris, the swarm of anthropogenic objects polluting the near-Earth environment is a critical issue. Aside from large, abandoned spacecraft, there are also countless fragments from their degeneration. The smallest particles, such as paint flecks or solidified liquids expelled from vehicles can damage operational satellites and pose a serious risk to both the ecology and shared use of space.
The urgency to clean up space has invited both speculative and applied science to address this challenge. As it turns out, eliminating this detritus from space is not as simple as shooting or sweeping them out of the sky with a ground-based laser “broom” or canon. Other programs developed include a harpoon, a laser ranging instrument, a space net or tug-like satellite to drag debris to a central station.
The risk of uncontrolled remnants re-entering the atmosphere, however, requires the precise intervention of remotely controlled vehicles to capture the articles one-by-one. One of the latest missions is a robotic program conceived by Swiss start-up ClearSpace designed to proactively capture individual pieces of space debris and return them to Earth. Its developers have provided a prototype of the robot for Cosmos Archaeology, which viewers can virtually handle in an AR application. Due to be launched in 2025, the robot’s work remains daunting, given the sheer quantity of 130 million space debris objects larger than 1mm of a total estimated mass of 10,100 tonnes.