ESA signs contract for first space debris removal mission

JOHANNESBURG — The European Space Agency (ESA) has finalized an 86 million euro ($104 million) contract with Swiss start-up ClearSpace SA to complete the world’s first space debris removal mission. 

ClearSpace-1 represents the first real space debris removal and is not just a demonstration mission, ESA Director General, Jan Wörner, said during a Dec. 1 media briefing. The payload adapter ClearSpace-1 intends to retrieve is an active piece of space debris, a prospect that is far more challenging than a stable demonstration target, he added.

“With space debris, by definition no such control is possible: instead the objects are adrift, often tumbling randomly,” said Wörner. “So this first capture and disposal of an uncooperative space object represents an extremely challenging achievement.

ESA officials signed a contract with Clear Space on Nov 13. to complete the safe deorbiting of a payload adapter launched aboard the second flight of the Arianespace Vega rocket in 2013.

Unlike traditional ESA contracts that involve the agency procuring and running the entire mission, ClearSpace-1 is a contract to purchase a service: the safe removal of a piece of space debris. ESA officials said they intend this mission to help establish a new commercial sector led by European industry.

The 86 million euros supplied by ESA will be supplemented with an additional 24 million euros ClearSpace is raising from commercial investors. Approximately 14 million euros of the privately-raised funding will be utilized for the mission, while the remaining 10 million will be set aside for contingencies.

In addition to the partial-purchase cost, ESA will supply key technology for the mission developed by the agency’s Clean Space initiative as part of its Active Debris Removal/In-Orbit Servicing project. The technology to be supplied includes advanced guidance, navigation and control systems, vision-based AI, and the robotic arms to capture the target object.

The 112-kilogram Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (Vespa) target object is located in orbit around Earth at an approximate altitude of 801 by 664 kilometers. The object was selected because it is the approximate size and weight of a small satellite, an initial target market for ClearSpace’s debris-removal service.

The 500-kilogram ClearSpace-1 chaser spacecraft is slated to be launched aboard a Vega-C rocket in 2025. The spacecraft features cameras, radar and LIDAR for navigation, and four articulating tentacles designed to capture the target object.

Once launched, the ClearSpace-1 spacecraft will be deployed into a 500-kilometer orbit for commissioning and testing. The spacecraft will then be raised to the target orbit for rendezvous and capture. Although much of this process will be automated, a series of go/no go points will be completed leading up to capture.

After the target object has been captured, the ClearSpace-1 spacecraft will drag itself and its payload into a destructive orbit to burn up in the atmosphere.

ClearSpace CEO Luc Piguet said following the completion of ClearSpace-1, the company plans to undertake progressively more ambitious follow-on missions. The company’s goal is to get to the point where a single spacecraft can capture multiple objects, which

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The ESA is spending $100 million to clean up one piece of space junk



a body of water: space junk cleanup


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space junk cleanup

  • The European Space Agency is paying the equivalent of over $100 million to remove a single piece of manmade space junk from Earth orbit.
  • The ClearSpace-1 mission will launch in 2025 and attempt to bring down a rocket payload adapter.
  • The mission will be critical in demonstrating how future cleanup efforts may be possible.

We all love seeing rockets launch, carrying scientific equipment and sometimes human beings into space. It’s cool, and it’s proof that when humans put their minds to something they can accomplish great things. Unfortunately, launching things into space leaves a lot of trash behind, often floating in orbit around Earth for months or, in some cases, many years.

Space junk is a huge problem that is growing bigger by the day. Discarded rocket components, bits and pieces of old, defunct satellites, and even abandoned space stations (looking at you, China) have cluttered the area around Earth in greater density than ever before. Now, as a new initiative by the European Space Agency suggests, cleaning up that trash is going to be a complicated and apparently very, very costly task.

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According to a news release by the ESA, the agency has signed a massive contract with a Swiss startup called ClearSpace SA. The company has been awarded €86 million — which is roughly $102 million USD — for the purposes of removing a single large piece of space junk from Earth orbit. The mission, which will be ClearSpace-1, will launch in 2025 and attempt to bring down a Vespa payload adapter.

The object was part of a rocket launch that sent a satellite into space, and while the satellite made it to its intended destination, the payload adapter has also been orbiting Earth ever since. Now, the ESA wants it disposed of. It’s been orbiting Earth since 2013 and, the ESA says, is the size of “a small satellite.”

The ClearSpace-1 mission will target the Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter). This object was left in an approximately 801 km by 664 km-altitude gradual disposal orbit, complying with space debris mitigation regulations, following the second flight of Vega back in 2013. With a mass of 112 kg, the Vespa target is close in size to a small satellite.

The space junk problem could be solved quickly if the objects that we don’t want orbiting Earth would just slow down enough that they fell into the atmosphere on their own. In the vast majority of cases, the intense friction of the objects meeting Earth’s atmosphere would destroy them completely. The aim for many conceptual space junk cleanup efforts has focused on this fact. Past proposals have included net systems and even harpoons that would snag space debris of various sizes and drag them down into the atmosphere where they would be destroyed.

If ClearSpace can pull it off, it’ll be a big achievement, but it will also be just

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ESA seeking dust-proof materials for lunar return

ESA seeking dust-proof materials for lunar return
Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt collecting a soil sample, his spacesuit coated with dust. NASA image AS17-145-22157. Credit: NASA

When humans return to the moon, they’ll have formidable challenge lying in wait: lunar dust. The talcum-like lunar regolith is considered the biggest operational problem facing moon colonists. Within a few days of dust exposure, Apollo spacesuits suffered obscured visors, clogged mechanisms and eroded suit layers. So an ESA team is looking into novel material options to serve as the basis of future spacesuits or protect rovers or fixed infrastructure.


“The idea came up that as ESA’s going back to the moon we should look into harnessing the many innovations in the materials field since the Apollo spacesuits were designed, more than half a century ago,” remarks ESA materials and processes engineer Malgorzata Holynska.

“So while we are not developing a new spacesuit at this time, we are looking into selecting candidate materials such a suit might use—as well as protective covers for rovers or fixed machinery and infrastructure—and performing some state-of-the-art testing to see how they stand up against simulated lunar conditions, particularly lunar dust.”

moon of dust

As Apollo 12 Commander Pete Conrad noted: “I think probably one of the most aggravating, restricting facets of lunar surface exploration is the dust and its adherence to everything no matter what kind of material, whether it be skin, suit material, metal, no matter what it be and its restrictive friction-like action to everything it gets on.”

That turned out to include spacesuits: “Suit integrities did stay good, but there’s no doubt in my mind that with a couple more EVA’s something could have ground to a halt. In the area where the lunar boots fitted on the suits, we wore through the outer garment and were beginning to wear through the Mylar.”

More recently, China’s Yutu-1 rover is believed to have been immobilized during its second day on the moon by lunar dust clogging its moving parts.

ESA seeking dust-proof materials for lunar return
A close-up of Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad’s dust-coated glove. Credit: NASA

Violent origins

Lunar dust is present all across the moon, created by the steady bombardment of micrometeorites smashes the rocky surface into fine particles. Unlike terrestrial dust it has never been weathered by water or wind, so that even microscopic particles still maintain edges of razor sharpness. And the unfiltered energy of lunar sunshine can impart the dust with serious static cling.

“Depending on its area of origin the dust might have very different chemical and abrasive characteristics, with its precise properties depending on the selected landing site—which is another factor of concern,” notes ESA structural engineer Shumit Das.

“One of the key findings from Apollo was that the abrasion effects of the lunar regolith would be the major limiting factor in returning to the moon. We want to overcome that and enable spacesuits that could be used for many more spacewalks than the few performed per Apollo landing—up to 2,500 hours of surface activities is our assumption.”

ESA seeking dust-proof materials for lunar return
Scanning electron microscopic close-ups
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ESA Reveals ‘Otherworldly’ Photo Of A Peculiar Galaxy 271 Million Light-Years Away

KEY POINTS

  • The Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of galaxy NGC 34
  • NGC 34 is a peculiar galaxy located in the constellation Cetus
  • The galaxy is a product of two massive spiral galaxies colliding and merging millions of years ago

The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has captured a photo of a unique galaxy located approximately 271 million light-years away from Earth.

The galaxy, called NGC 34, lies in the constellation Cetus (The Sea Monster) and has an appearance that is continuously changing due to past events. The object, which is the result of two massive spiral galaxies colliding together, is also known as NGC 17, LEDA 781 or Mrk 938.

A tweet posted Monday by the European Space Agency (ESA) Twitter account showed the beautiful, glowing body of NGC 34 that outshines all other objects surrounding it. The otherworldly image captured by the Hubble reveals the galaxy’s translucent outer region that is covered with stars and wispy tendrils, making it look almost like it came straight out of a fairytale.

With a galaxy as peculiar as NGC 34, it is bound to have an interesting past as well.

“If we were able to reverse time by a few million years, we would see two beautiful spiral galaxies on a direct collision course. When these galaxies collided into one another, their intricate patterns and spiral arms were permanently disturbed,” Hubble astronomers said in a statement on the space telescope’s website.

“This image shows the galaxy’s bright center, a result of this merging event that has created a burst of new star formation and lit up the surrounding gas,” the astronomers continued. “As the galaxies continue to intertwine and become one, NGC 34’s shape will become more like that of a peculiar galaxy, devoid of any distinct shape.”

In the vastness of space, it is rare for two galaxies to collide with each other. But it can still occur in mega-clusters containing thousands of galaxies held together by gravity in one large region of space, the astronomers said.

NGC 34 was discovered in 1886 by astronomer Frank Muller. Later that year, it was once more observed by astronomer Lewis Swift. The galaxy has a diameter of about 165,000 light-years, Sci News reported.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a large, space-based observatory designed to observe the universe and the events happening within it. The telescope has made countless observations, including watching a comet collide with Jupiter and discovering moons around Pluto.

NASA also recently shared a stunning image taken by the Hubble. On Monday, the space agency posted a photo of interacting galaxies NGC 2799 and NGC 2798, showing the former seemingly being pulled into the center of the latter.

NASA said the interactions between the two neighboring galaxies could eventually result in a “merger or unique formation,” possibly similar to NGC 34.

Galaxy HSC J1631+4426 Image: Galaxy HSC J1631+4426, which broke the record for having the lowest oxygen abundance. The image was captured using the Subaru Telescope. Photo: NAOJ/Kojima et al.

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Is There Life On Venus? ESA Rocket To Skim Planet For Signs Of Life

KEY POINTS

  • Phosphine has been found in the clouds of Venus
  • The discovery has led scientists to look more into Venus and its atmosphere
  • BepiColombo will make its first close approach with Venus on Oct. 14

It was only a month ago when scientists discovered phosphine was present in the clouds on Venus — an indicator that there may be life on the planet. Luckily, BepiColombo will be flying by the Earth’s sister planet this Wednesday, Oct. 14 — giving scientists a chance to confirm if these observations are due to possible lifeforms on the planet.

When the subject of Venus comes up in a conversation, it is almost inevitable to bring up its extreme temperatures, toxic gases and dangerously crushing air pressure. A recent discovery of the presence of phosphine on the planet’s clouds has led scientists and researchers to think about the possibility of life on Venus, according to an article by Astronomy.com on Oct. 14.

Phosphine is a toxic gas that can only be produced by microbial life. To date, there are no known non-biological processes that could create this gas on Venus. However, the presence of phosphine could also be due to some unknown chemical processes occurring on the planet, so this alternative reason is always in scientists’ peripheral.

The scientists looking into this are determined to do more research to answer this mind-boggling question and are happy to know that BepiColombo will be making its close encounter with the sister planet tonight, Oct. 14, at 11:58 EDT, when it will be 30 times closer to Venus than the Akatsuki spacecraft, an orbiter designed to study Venus’ atmosphere. BepiColombo is expected to fly by at a distance of 10,720 kilometers from Venus’ surface.

Although BepiColombo isn’t necessarily designed for Venus, its close approach gives scientists an opportunity to look into Venus’ atmosphere up close. A number of the spacecraft’s instruments are also capable of studying the chemical composition and cloud cover of the planet’s atmosphere, which will allow scientists to gather more information on the planet.

BepiColombo’s first flyby won’t be able to procure all the data needed by researchers to find out if life does exist on Venus, but its second flyby looks more promising. During this time, the spacecraft will be zipping past Venus at a close distance of just 550 kilometers away from its surface.

BepiColombo is a joint spacecraft made by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). It was launched in 2018 with the sole purpose of heading to the innermost planet, Mercury, and exploring it.
 

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