A rendering showing the operating concept of ELSA-d. The mission aims to demonstrate technologies that could help clean up space debris. Caption made of astroscale fur
A demonstration mission to test an idea for cleaning up space debris is planned to start early Monday morning from a launch site in Kazakhstan. Known as ELSA-d, the mission will showcase technology that could help capture space debris, the millions of orbital debris floating above the earth.
The more than 8,000 tons of debris threatens the loss of services we rely on for life on earth, including weather forecasting, telecommunications and GPS systems.
The spaceship tries to attach itself to dead satellites and push them to Earth to burn them in the atmosphere.
ELSA-d is run by a “servicer satellite” and a “client satellite” that are loud Astroscale, the Japan-based company behind the mission. With the help of magnetic docking technology, the servicer will let go and try to “meet” with the client, which acts as a sham piece of space debris.
The UK based mission will repeat this capture and release process over a period of six months. The aim is to prove the ability of the service satellite to track down and dock its target in varying degrees of complexity.
The spaceship is not designed to capture dead satellites that are already in orbit, but future satellites that are to be launched with compatible docking plates.
The Astroscale team is conducting pre-launch tests at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in February 2021
Space debris has been a growing problem for years as man-made objects such as old satellites and parts of spacecraft accumulate in low-earth orbit until they disintegrate, deorbitize, explode or collide with other objects and splinter into smaller pieces of debris.
In 2019, for example, India blew one of its satellites apart Orbits the earth creating hundreds of debris that threatened to collide with the International Space Station.
According to a current report from NASAAt least 26,000 of the millions of space debris are the size of a softball. With a speed of 2700 km / h they could “destroy a satellite on impact”. More than 500,000 parts are a “mission end threat” due to their ability to hit protective systems, fuel tanks and spacecraft cabins.
And most of the debris, more than 100 million pieces, is the size of a grain of salt and could puncture a spacesuit, “increasing the risk of catastrophic collisions for spacecraft and crew members,” the report said.
According to NASA, cleaning up space – and managing the risks associated with debris – depends on litter stopping to build up and being actively removed.
Other cleanup technologies have been developing for years. Japan’s space agency in 2016 sent a 700 meter leash into space to try to slow down and redirect space junk. In 2018 a device called RemoveDebris Successfully cast a net around a dummy satellite.
The European Space Agency also plans to launch a self-destructive robot into orbit in 2025, which the organization’s former director-general has dubbed a “Vacuum Cleaner” room.
These efforts could prove increasingly important as private space companies like SpaceX continue to overload low-earth orbit with a “Mega constellation” of satellites.
ELSA-d starts on Monday at 2:07 a.m. CET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. The mission was originally supposed to start this weekend, but it was Saturday postponed.