Swiss 'Janitor Satellite' to Clean Space Junk

It will push defunct satellites into the atmosphere to burn up

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 15, 2012 10:20 AM CST

(Newser) – Switzerland is on a mean cleaning bender: The fastidious folks at the Swiss Space Center are building a "janitor satellite" that will grab space junk orbiting the Earth and push it into the atmosphere to burn up, the AP reports. The first of these spacecraft, the $11 million "CleanSpace One," is currently under construction and should launch in three to five years, the scientists announced today.

Obsolete satellites, spent rockets, and other forms of space junk are becoming a real problem; NASA has counted more than 500,000 pieces of debris orbiting the Earth, traveling at speeds of up to 17,500mph. At those speeds, a collision with a spacecraft or functioning satellite could cause significant damage. CleanSpace One won't make much of a dent in that total, at least not initially—it will at first focus on disposing of two specific Swiss satellites.

This illustration shows the CleanSpace One chasing its target, one of the CubeSats launched by Switzerland in 2009.
This illustration shows the CleanSpace One chasing its target, one of the CubeSats launched by Switzerland in 2009.   (AP Photo/HO/T EPFL/Swiss Space Center)
In this illustration the CleanSpace One satellite reaches its target and unfolds its bio-inspired gripping mechanism.
In this illustration the CleanSpace One satellite reaches its target and unfolds its bio-inspired gripping mechanism.   (AP Photo/HO/ EPFL/Swiss Space Center)
In this illustration shows the CleanSpace One satellite, firmly attached to the debris, powers on its engines to reach the Earth atmosphere where both satellites will be burnt during their descent.
In this illustration shows the CleanSpace One satellite, firmly attached to the debris, powers on its engines to reach the Earth atmosphere where both satellites will be burnt during their descent.   (AP Photo/HO/ EPFL/Swiss Space Center)
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