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Space Debris Cleanup Mission Faces Irony as Target Object Collides with Debris

In an unexpected setback, space junk removal effort ClearSpace-1 sees its target, VESPA, collide with more debris, highlighting the pressing issue of orbital clutter


In an ironic turn of events, space junk slated for removal by the ClearSpace-1 mission became a victim of the very problem it sought to address. The target of this mission, a defunct payload adapter named VESPA, ended up being hit by another piece of space debris before the cleanup could even begin.

Launched aboard a Vega rocket in 2013, the VESPA payload adapter had been circling Earth, contributing to the growing cloud of space junk enveloping our planet. Its idle decade in space was about to come to a purposeful end. ClearSpace-1, a European mission set to launch in 2026, had plans to rendezvous with VESPA. The mission was designed with an innovative claw-like spacecraft intended to grasp space debris and direct it towards Earth’s atmosphere, where it would safely burn up. VESPA was to be its maiden capture, serving as both a test subject and a step toward cleaning up space.

However, on August 10, a notification from the United States 18th Space Defense Squadron informed the European Space Agency (ESA) of an unexpected development. New fragments were detected near the VESPA adapter. Preliminary observations pointed towards a collision with another piece of space debris, causing VESPA to break up into smaller chunks.

Responding to this unforeseen event, the ESA issued a statement, clarifying that the development of the ClearSpace-1 mission would persist. As they gather more information on the incident, ESA and its industrial partners are gauging its implications for the mission’s objectives.

While this incident can easily be dismissed as an unfortunate coincidence, it underscores a more pressing concern: the escalating problem of space debris. The Department of Defense’s Space Surveillance Network is currently monitoring over 27,000 pieces of orbital debris. Yet, countless smaller, undetected fragments continue to orbit the Earth. As the global space industry expands, the number of launches and satellites in orbit will rise. This surge in space activity only amplifies the potential for collisions, emphasizing the urgency to address the mounting space junk dilemma.

The incident with VESPA serves as a timely reminder of the challenges faced by space missions and the imperative to develop efficient solutions for space debris removal. After all, if the very missions aiming to tackle space junk can fall victim to it, the magnitude of the problem becomes even clearer.


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