More than 750 000 bits of dangerous debris are currently in orbit around Earth, each with the potential to cause damage to satellites in space. About 100 tonnes of this technological trash re-enters Earth’s atmosphere in an uncontrolled way every year, the vast majority of which safely burns up – but some pieces make it through our atmosphere and reach the surface.
For this reason, ESA is planning a new type of mission – a ‘servicing vehicle’ – that can be customised to perform a variety of roles in orbit. The vehicle could extend the life of satellites through refuelling and refurbishment, and most importantly it will have the ability to safely ‘de-orbit’ satellites at the end of their lives, preventing the future creation of space debris.
With the Space Servicing Vehicle, ESA hopes to spark off a valuable new business model for European industry that will go a long way toward mitigating new space debris and ensuring the long-term sustainability of spaceflight.