A team of engineers has been at work for the past three years to develop a space clean up satellite. The intent is to eliminate threatening, human-made orbital debris.
The worry is not new there's lots of clutter to pick and choose from, be it broken down satellites to tossed away rocket stages.
A new entry to de-litter Earth orbit is the Clean Space One project, headed by researchers from eSpace, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne's (EPFL) Centre for Space Engineering and Signal Processing 5 Laboratory and HES-SO University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland.
Their intent is to trap a small satellite SwissCube tossed into space in late 2009. SwissCube is a joint cubesat project of various laboratories at EPFL and universities in Switzerland.
This small cubesat-type satellite, measures just 10 centimetres by 10 centimetres. Barring an unforeseen event, SwissCube's demise has been programmed for 2018.
The size of SwissCube makes it tough to grasp, but it also has darker and lighter parts that reflect sunlight differently, explains Christophe Paccolat, a PhD student working on the concept.
Clean Space One could be launched as early as 2018 in collaboration with the company S3, headquartered in Payerne. The engineering team is reporting a major step forward in designing an approach and capture system – a so-called "Pac-Man" solution.
The prototype Clean Space One resembles a net in the form of a cone that unfolds and then closes back down once it has captured the small satellite. It will trap the small satellite and the two would combust together in the atmosphere.
Other work on the initiative involves creating and testing visual approach algorithms on the clean-up satellite's cameras. To be accurate, they must take into account a variety of parameters, a team press statement notes, such as the angle of illumination of the sun and the relative speed at which the cubesat is moving through space.