The goal of the space debris cleanup mission seems to have been broken into pieces.
The remaining rocket transformer, expected to be removed from low-Earth orbit in 2026, has fresh pieces of space debris floating nearby. This is likely an after-effects of colliding with something small flying through space. The problem was spotted by the US Space Force’s 18th Aerospace Defense Squadron, which monitors satellite movements.
This is an unexpected occurrence for the European Space Agency’s ClearSpace-1 mission, a test mission planned to remove the transducer in 2026. The transducer is a cone-shaped remnant, weighing about 250 pounds (113 kg) from the 2013 Vega spacecraft. The launch that sent a fleet small satellites into orbit. Space tracking systems have found new objects near the transformer, which the European Space Agency learned about on August 10. The agency said the objects were likely space debris caused by a “high-velocity impact of a small, untracked object” that impacted the payload transformer. We may never know if the crashed object was natural or artificial, since it didn’t show up in the tracking systems.
Related: The space junk cleanup mission will be launched in 2026 aboard an Arianespace rocket
“This fragmentation event underscores the importance of the ClearSpace-1 mission,” said ESA officials. wrote in a statement Tuesday (22 August). “The most significant threat posed by large bodies of space debris is that they break up into clouds of smaller bodies, each of which can cause significant damage to active satellites.”
While it appears that only a small piece of the missile’s equipment was lost after impact, the mission plan assumes that the hardware is completely intact. Now the assessments are continuing to see what’s next, and the analysis will continue for weeks at least.
The planned ClearSpace-1 mission aims to “rendezvous, capture and remove the transformer” using spacecraft from Swiss startup ClearSpace, according to The latest version From mission partner Arianespace. Arianespace’s lightweight Vega-C rocket will bring the cleanup spacecraft into orbit under the European Space Agency-funded mission.
The plan calls for the spider-like ClearSpace vehicle with “legs” to encircle and then push back to Earth the payload converter, the structure that connects the spacecraft to the launch vehicle.
And with ClearSpace-1’s launch date approaching after three years, there is time to figure out what to do. But the accident creates more uncertainty for an already difficult task. There are only a limited number of Earth stations that can be seen above the orbit of the International Space Station; The original payload transformer was only six feet or two meters in diameter and only 410 miles (660 km) high.
But fortunately, follow-up from the US Space Force and other stations in Germany and Poland found that “the main object remains intact and has not undergone any significant change in its orbit,” the European Space Agency said. Fortunately, the risk of these new objects colliding with something else is “minimal”.
It will take time to process human-generated space debris. Nearly 70 years of space exploration has left a staggering number of pieces to work with. European Space Agency estimates Earth’s orbit contains at least 36,500 debris objects over 4 inches (10 cm) across. Including the smallest trackable objects, the balloon counts to 330 million objects larger than 0.04 inch (1 mm).