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Arianespace to launch the first active debris removal ClearSpace mission with Vega C
File illustration of the ClearSpace 1 debris capture system.
Arianespace to launch the first active debris removal ClearSpace mission with Vega C
by Staff Writers
Paris, France (SPX) May 10, 2023

Arianespace and ClearSpace signed a launch contract for ClearSpace-1, the first active debris removal mission that will capture and deorbit a derelict space debris of 112 kg. The launch, scheduled starting as soon as the second-half of 2026, will use the European light launcher Vega C to release the spacecraft into a Low Earth/Sun-Synchronous drift orbit for commissioning and critical tests. The servicer spacecraft will then be raised to the client object for rendezvous, capture and subsequent deorbitation through an atmospheric reentry.

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, in compliance with space debris mitigation regulations, during the second flight of a Vega launcher in 2013. Close in mass to a small satellite, the simple shape of this space debris will allow to demonstrate the technologies of the spacecraft and its quartet of robotic arms, thus opening the way for more challenging missions with multiple captures per flight.

"Above us, there currently are over 34,000 pieces of space debris of more than 10 centimeters 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. 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 honored to deliver this mission with Vega C, thus supporting a sustainable use of Space," said Stephane Israel, CEO of Arianespace.

"We are very enthusiastic about this deal with Arianespace. This secures ClearSpace's access to space for our trailblazing space debris removal mission. The ClearSpace-1 mission demonstrates a turning point in the space industry as we urgently need to bring solutions to a fundamental problem: we are putting objects into space quicker than they are being removed," said Luc Piguet CEO and Co-founder of ClearSpace. "We look forward to this European collaboration and the potential for more missions in the future."

In 2019, ESA selected ClearSpace from a field of 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.

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