Swiss to dispose of junk in space
Lausanne - Swiss engineers want to remove man-made waste from space, by building a vehicle that would grab old satellites orbiting the earth, the Swiss Space Centre announced on Wednesday in Lausanne.
Some 16 000 pieces of so-called space debris are racing around the planet and pose an increasing threat, as they could collide with active satellites or spacecraft.
The space centre, which is part of the national technology institute EPFL, plans to send a small satellite called CleanSpace One into space to grab the centre's even smaller satellite SwissCube, which was launched in 2009 and measures 10cm³.
"We put it up there, so we are going to bring it back down," said the centre's director Volker Gass, stressing the project's ethical component.
Several space agencies including DLR in Germany are also working on solutions to dispose space waste, but no discarded parts of satellites, rockets or spacecraft have ever been collected.
"We want to offer and sell a whole family of ready-made systems, designed as sustainably as possible, that are able to de-orbit several different kinds of satellites," Gass said.
However, the first version that is to be launched within three to five years will not yet be able to bring SwissCube back to earth, but both objects will burn when re-entering the atmosphere.
"One has to work on achievable targets. Otherwise you never get into space," Gass said.