London, 10 May 2023.- ClearSpace and Arianespace signed a launch contract for ClearSpace-1, the first active debris removal mission that will capture and deorbit a derelict space debris object of more than 100kg. The launch – which could occur as soon as the second-half of 2026 – will use the new European light launcher Vega C to release the spacecraft into a sun-synchronous drift orbit for commissioning and critical tests.
The space debris object removed by this mission is the upper part of a VESPA (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) left in a gradual disposal orbit during the second flight of a Vega launcher in 2013. This space debris object is close in mass to a small satellite and the mission intends to demonstrate the technologies of the spacecraft and its quartet of robotic arms.
“Above us, there currently are over 34,000 pieces of space debris of more than 10 centimetres each as well as about 6,500 operational satellites in orbit, a number expected to rise to more than 27,000 by the end of the decade,” said Stéphane Israël, CEO of Arianespace. “These figures demonstrate the need to find innovative solutions for preserving the benefits of Space for humanity and life on Earth. At Arianespace, we are honoured to deliver this mission with Vega C, thus supporting a sustainable use of Space.”
Luc Piguet, CEO and Co-founder of ClearSpace adds that the ClearSpace-1 mission demonstrates a turning point in the space industry and we need solutions to the issue of putting objects into space quicker than we are removing them.
In 2019, ESA selected ClearSpace from more than a dozen candidates to lead the first mission to remove an ESA-owned item from orbit. Supported by ESA’s new Space Safety Programme, the mission is being procured as a service contract with a startup-led commercial consortium, to help establish a new market for in-orbit servicing, as well as debris removal.