Back in the 1970s, there was a short-lived sitcom called Quark about an outer space rubbish collector. What was played for laughs back then may soon be a reality with the announcement that Ecole polytechnique federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and Swiss Space Systems (S3) have formed a partnership to launch the CleanSpace One satellite into orbit to collect space debris using a launch system that promises to be cheaper than using conventional techniques.
There are estimated to be more than 16,000 pieces of space debris orbiting the Earth larger than 10 cm (3.9 in) in diameter. That’s doesn't amount to much in the vastness of space, but satellites tend to cluster in similar orbits and a satellite collision, such as occurred in 2009 between Iridium 33 and Kosmos-2251, could cause this number to increase exponentially. If that happens, it would make space travel much more difficult and expensive.
There are many plans for making satellites less of a hazard to navigation. These approaches include installing microthrusters or solar sails as a way to plunge them back into the atmosphere or into deep space, but that still leaves the question of how to deal with the debris already up there, or which might be created inadvertently despite attempts to mitigate the problem.
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