Spacewatch: mission to clean up space debris set for launch

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Elsa-d, the world’s first commercial mission to demonstrate a space debris removal system, is scheduled to launch at 06:07 GMT on 20 March from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Developed by Astroscale, a Japanese-UK company, the mission will be operated from the UK’s in-orbit servicing control centre (IOCC) at Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell, near Oxford. The End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration mission (Elsa-d) is a small satellite designed to find, rendezvous and clamp on to an unwanted satellite. It will then push it into the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up.

The removal of space debris is the key to space sustainability, which will ensure that new satellites can be operated without the risk of colliding with old ones. The European Space Agency estimates 3,600 working satellites are in orbit, and more than 28,000 pieces of debris are being tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network. In the next decade, more than 10,000 satellites are scheduled to launch, mostly from satellite internet providers such as SpaceX or OneWeb. For this demonstration, Elsa-d will take a smaller spacecraft with it to act as a piece of space debris. It will perform a number of rendezvous and capture scenarios before burning up.

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