A New Mission Will Soon Begin Decluttering Earth's Orbit

The positions for space janitoring are filling up fast.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Low-Earth orbit is continuously collecting junk, everything from large defunct satellites to spent rocket parts and other smaller fragments. Needless to say, this is quite a problem.

Now, there is a new mission meant to clean all that debris up and it's called the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale (ELSA). 

"ELSA-d consists of two spacecraft: a servicer satellite (~385 lb or 175 kg) and a client satellite (~37 lb or 17 kg), launched stacked together. The servicer satellite has been developed to safely remove debris objects from orbit, equipped with proximity rendezvous technologies and a magnetic docking mechanism. The client satellite is a piece of replica debris fitted with a ferromagnetic plate that enables the docking, " Astroscale writes on its website.

"The servicer will repeatedly release and dock with the client in a series of technical demonstrations, proving the capability to find and dock with defunct satellites and other debris. Demonstrations include client search, client inspection, client rendezvous, and both non-tumbling and tumbling docking."

The ELSA-d mission was scheduled to liftoff Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, although, it has been delayed to Monday (21 March). If successful, it could revolutionize how we clean up space debris.

Just like plastics in our oceans, space debris is becoming an increasingly alarming problem. Space garbage flies around at speeds of about 18,000 mph. This means it can cause damage to other functioning spacecraft and present safety risks to astronauts onboard the International Space Station.

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The ELSA-d mission will last for roughly six months. At the end of it, both the servicer and client satellites will be directed to burn up in Earth's atmosphere leaving behind no junk.

Ideally, this is what the mission plans to do with all the space garbage as well. Bring it to a place in the atmosphere where it can be turned to ashes. This is especially important because the usable orbits where we keep our satellites are quite narrow and cannot afford to be cluttered by trash. 

Luckily another company called Kurs orbital is also dedicated to solving this problem. This firm is using a fleet of reusable servicers, located in different orbits, that enable space debris removal missions. Not bad!

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