February 16, 2012
Swiss Scientists Working On New ‘Janitor Satellite’
Swiss scientists said they are planning to launch a satellite specifically designed to help get rid of space junk.
The "janitor satellite" will cost $11-million and is being built by the Swiss Space Center at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).
EPFL said its launch would come within three to five years. On its first mission the CleanSpace One will grab one of two Swiss satellites launched in 2009 and 2010.
According to NASA, over 500,000 pieces of space debris are orbiting around the Earth. This debris travels at speeds of about 17,500 miles per hour, which could be catastrophic if it collides with the International Space Station or other spacecraft or satellites.
A French satellite was damaged by a rocket fragment in 1996, and an Iridium Communications satellite was destroyed when it collided with a defunct Russia satellite in 2009.
EPFL said its labs are looking into a new ultra-compact motor that can adjust its path to match its target's path.
The satellite will also be capable of grabbing a hold and stabilizing the debris at high speeds.
Once the CleanSpace One gets a hold of the space junk, it will be able to guide the debris back into Earth's atmosphere, where both the Swiss-made satellite and floating debris would burn on re-entry.
"We want to offer and sell a whole family of readymade systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites," said Volker Gass, the Swiss space centre's director, in a statement on the EPFL website.
"Space agencies are increasingly finding it necessary to take into consideration and prepare for the elimination of the stuff they're sending into space. We want to be the pioneers in this area."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned of space junk last month, saying the U.S. will hold talks with the European Union to set informal rules to help limit debris floating around Earth.
A Swiss insurance company published a study last year that showed there is a one in 10,000 chance that a satellite traveling in a sun-synchronous orbit will collide with a piece of space debris.
NASA keeps track of 16,000 pieces of orbiting junk that are larger than 4-inches in diameter.
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