Credit: ClearSpace

The ClearSpace-1 debris removal mission underwent a transformative period to achieve faster execution pace and reviewed mission objectives.

After the successful completion of the mission’s first phase (Key Performance Gate 1) by ClearSpace, the detection of space debris objects in the vicinity of the mission’s client object indicating a collision of the target with untraceable debris, and the need for a change towards a more expedited and cost-effective approach has prompted a pivot in the next stage of the ClearSpace-1 mission. Following a technical and programmatic review between ESA and ClearSpace, the decision was taken to change the debris target, adjust the requirements for the mission and simplify the structure of its industrial team to reduce industrial risks while ensuring a swift and cost-effective execution of this groundbreaking mission.

In this context, ESA gave the green light for the continuation of the preparatory phase which will be implemented by a consortium led by OHB SE, a European space and technology company headquartered in Bremen, Germany, who will provide the satellite bus and be in charge of the system integration and launch.

Meanwhile, ClearSpace will contribute its technical leadership in mission-critical close-proximity and capture operations. All these capabilities are central to the company’s business model, forming the foundation of future commercial in-orbit servicing and debris removal missions, leveraging the state-of-the-art dark room simulation facility built by ClearSpace in Switzerland and strong engineering expertise accumulated on debris removal technologies. This consistent engagement showcases the steadfast dedication of ClearSpace to this landmark mission and to advancing the frontiers of space technology.

The new ClearSpace-1 mission is now to rendezvous with PROBA-1, the first ESA spacecraft with fully autonomous capabilities and a respected, but meanwhile over 20-year old space veteran, capture it and then conduct a perigee decrease manoeuvre. The mission will employ a four-armed capture mechanism to grab the client satellite and, once captured, the stack will safely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up.

‘’We are honoured to collaborate with OHB and remain at the forefront of in-orbit servicing with the ClearSpace-1 mission. We continue pushing the boundaries of in-orbit servicing and lay the foundations of a sustainable space operation. We believe that a strong partnership between startups and established large prime contractors highlights the best of both worlds to build reliable, competitive, and scalable products and services within an agile and dynamic collaboration.’’ says Luc Piguet, ClearSpace CEO.

The entering into the next phase of the ClearSpace-1 mission is a major milestone for the program and a confirmation of the importance and commitment that governments and industry are placing on the advancement of sustainable space exploration.

ESA update

Clearspace-1 is ESA’s first mission to demonstrate how to remove a piece of space debris from Earth’s orbit. It will rendezvous with, capture and safely bring down a derelict object for a safe atmospheric reentry – the near future of what space experts call Active Debris Removal (ADR). The mission has been procured by ESA as a service contract in 2020 with an industrial team led by Swiss startup ClearSpace in Lausanne. In February 2023, the company and its partners mastered ESA’s Space Safety programme review, after having received the funding for the next phase of the Clearspace-1 mission during ESA’s Ministerial Council in November 2022.

Following this, ESA’s Space Safety Programme Board today gave green light for the continuation of the preparatory phase, which will be implemented by a consortium led by OHB SE, a European space and technology company headquartered in Bremen, Germany, and involving the previous contractor, ClearSpace, who will continue to lead the close-proximity and capture operations.

The Clearspace-1 mission is a cornerstone of ESA’s Space Safety Programme, serving the Zero Debris Approach, the Agency’s bold goal to significantly limit the production of debris in Earth and Lunar orbits by 2030 for all future missions, programmes and activities. At the same time, it serves as a prime example to encourage the worldwide space community to become part of the Zero Debris Charter: Facilitated by ESA’s ‘Protection of Space Assets’ Accelerator and created and written by 40 space actors, the Charter contains both high-level guiding principles and specific, jointly defined targets to get to Zero Debris by 2030.

“We are seeing a dramatically increased use of space, but still insufficient technology to prevent the risks that follow. Our aim to become debris neutral in a few years will require clearing precious Earth orbits once a mission is complete, and if the mission fails to do this, it must be actively removed by dedicated vehicles,” concludes Holger Krag, ESA's Head of Space Safety.

About ClearSpace

ClearSpace, an in-orbit servicing (IOS) company created in 2018, is intent on revolutionizing how space missions are conducted. ClearSpace is becoming now a global company with dynamic engineering teams in Switzerland, the UK, Germany, Luxembourg and in the United States. ClearSpace is creating the technologies that will support a wide range of IOS applications, from disposal and in-orbit transport to inspection, assembly, manufacturing, repair, and recycling. ClearSpace aims to support institutions and commercial operators alike to enhance sustainable space operations and promote a circular space economy.

Source: ClearSpace / ESA

Kris Christiaens's Avatar

Kris Christiaens

This article was published by FutureSpaceFlight founder and chief editor Kris Christiaens. Kris Christiaens has been passionate and fascinated by spaceflight and space exploration all his life and has written hundreds of articles on space projects, the commercial space industry and space missions over the past 20 years for magazines, books and websites. In late 2021, he founded the website FutureSpaceFlight with the goal of promoting new space companies and commercial space projects and compiling news of these start-ups and companies on one website.