Scientists warn that the amount of space debris orbiting the planet has reached a dangerously high level. But a new miniature satellite has been designed to clean up this cosmic clutter — by the paragons of tidiness themselves, the Swiss.
Donald Kessler’s vision was a rather ominous one. Twenty years ago, the NASA consultant envisioned a scenario in which space junk blocked humans from traveling in space. The risk of colliding with such heavenly detritus, he argued, would one day make it too dangerous for astronauts. He warned that the number of hazardous objects could multiply by breaking apart, hopelessly trapping mankind on Earth.
Tens of thousands of little pieces of space junk are already orbiting the planet. But now a project from a nation known for orderliness and cleanliness aims to prevent Kessler’s nightmare scenario from becoming reality. On Wednesday, researchers at the Swiss Space Center, based at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), presented their plans for “CleanSpace One.” They envisage a launch of their clean-up mission within the next three to five years, with the aim of taking out a recently-discarded satellite. If it proves successful, further space cleanup jobs could follow.