Two British companies are fighting over a contract that will allow the winner to conduct an aggressive space debris cleanup on behalf of the UK Space Agency (UKSA). The companies were awarded a total of £4m ($4.7m) earlier this year to design a mission to remove at least two pieces of space debris from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). semester.
One of those companies, Astroscale, is retrieving pages from Earth’s vaults. The company’s current prototype is a satellite called Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) that identifies his LEO space junk via LIDAR. Observational data acquired by ADRAS-J during its Phase 1 research mission will help Astroscale determine debris it needs to retrieve and candidates for the company’s life-extending services. If Astroscale wins the contract, its spacecraft will use a giant robotic arm to grab unruly waste from orbit.
ClearSpace takes a slightly different approach. Rather than using one arm to snatch debris from a distance, ClearSpace’s Galactic Garbage Truck uses multiple arms to “embrace” a retired satellite and pull it inward. Like Astroscale, ClearSpace will also launch a service to track and repair broken satellites without leaving orbit. Traditionally, these operations are performed by astronauts, but these missions are resource intensive. A spacecraft-driven mission would ideally do the same without sacrificing efficiency.
Astroscale and ClearSpace plan to demonstrate their technology by October 2023. According to UKSA, solutions from both companies would need to be at least optional and autonomous to solve the current space junk crisis of over 130 million. Debris. Once the demonstration phase is over, UKSA will award one company a contract to carry out the first national space debris removal mission in 2026.