There are more than 300,000 pieces of debris larger than 1 cm circulating less than 2,000km above Earth, and eSpace is working on a solution to the problem.
The Swiss-based company announced that its CleanSpace One satellite project has passed a milestone toward its goal of launching a cleanup satellite to capture and destroy its SwissCube, which has been orbiting Earth for more than five years.
Swiss Space Systems, or S3, which focuses on in-orbit delivery of small satellites, will invest about US$16 million in the cleanup system, which eSpace likened to a Pac-Man gobbling up space debris.
The current design envisions a satellite that will deploy a net around a piece of debris and close down once it has captured the target. The CleanSpace One launch is scheduled for 2018.
S3 will handle the Space Pac-Man launch. SOAR, a small suborbital reusable shuttle, will piggyback on an Airbus A300 jetliner. When the jet hits its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, the SOAR will fire up and take off upwards. It will eject a vessel at an altitude of 80km. When the vessel hits 700km above Earth, it will release the Pac-Man satellite into Earth's orbit.
All elements in the chain, including the satellites, will have their own re-entry systems. A multitude of Pac-Man satellites will need to be deployed to clean up all the space debris.
However, the sheer cost of tracking down multiple bits of debris would be astronomical, so it is likely each satellite could capture just one bit of debris. And that is why S3 is in the game — it hopes to sell tons of junk-retrieval satellites to various governments.