The UK is committing £5 million to fund a mission to remove space junk. The project will aim to bring two defunct satellites back through Earth’s atmosphere later this decade – a first-of-its-kind feat.
Speaking today at the Secure World Foundation’s Summit for Space Sustainability in London, the UK’s science minister George Freeman outlined the country’s commitment to keeping Earth’s orbit clean and tidy as part of the UK’s Plan for Space Sustainability. This includes drawing up regulatory norms for the safe operation of satellites and lowering insurance costs for sustainable missions.
“We’re at the cusp of a massive explosion of satellites,” said Freeman. “We want to make sure we lead in the science of sustainability.”
The UK’s Active Debris Removal mission, first announced last year, will see a spacecraft launched into orbit in 2026. Once there, it will journey to two dead UK satellites orbiting our planet and pull them back into the atmosphere so they burn up, proving that a single spacecraft can remove more than one piece of debris.
“Removing multiple pieces of debris with a single vehicle is the right way to go,” says Hugh Lewis at the University of Southampton, UK. More than 30,000 pieces of debris in Earth’s orbit are tracked today, including some 2500 dead satellites.
Current debris removal plans, such as an upcoming mission by Swiss company ClearSpace in 2025, funded by the European Space Agency, are focused on removing just one piece of debris. The UK’s mission will be the first to target multiple pieces, with the removal spacecraft designed to be left in Earth orbit, possibly available…