One company creates a space tow truck

There are more than planets and stars in space. There’s a lot of debris too, more than 9,000 tons worth in 2022, according to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office. It includes things like satellites that are no longer in use and debris deliberately released during space missions. As space travel grows, so does the amount of debris, which could ultimately pose a risk to Earth.

ClearSpace aims to solve that problem. The company’s founder and CEO, Luc Piguet, tells Asking for a Trend’s Josh Lipton that the company is developing a “robotic retrieval system” that essentially functions as a tow truck to retrieve large chunks of space debris from orbit.

Piguet explains that while newer satellites are designed to safely fall back to Earth, there are ways ClearSpace can help extend the satellite’s life cycle. He notes that it takes a lot of propellant to safely deorbit a satellite. Instead of using that propellant in deorbiting, he says, that propellant could be used to extend the life of the satellite and ClearSpace’s services could be used to help it safely deorbit.

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This post was written by Stephanie Mikulich.

Video transcript

To achieve sustainability beyond Earth and in space, there are currently thousands of satellites overhead with more than 9,000 tons of space to orbit.

With thousands more satellites scheduled to launch by the end of this decade, Clear Space founder and CEO Luke Gay takes a look behind the scenes to see how we can clean up this space junk.

It’s good to see you.

Let’s start by talking about space debris from Space 3.

Luke, what do we mean by that?

What are examples?

And how big is the problem?

So I think the space debris is generally caused by rocket bodies or satellites that are at the end of their life or that have failed in orbit and that essentially generate uh that stay in orbit because of their speed, exactly keeping something in orbit requires getting into low earth orbit at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour.

And um, those objects stay there and actually become a projectile over time.

What can happen is that these objects undergo fragmentation events caused by an onboard collision or explosion.

In general, it can generate very large fields of debris that all continue to orbit at the same speed.

So this is a big problem and it is increasing rapidly especially in the lower space.

And Luke creating a lot of this space junk, I mean, is it the US, China, Russia, that’s responsible for a lot of this?

A little bit, a little bit of everyone, right?

Um There’s been a lot of debris created by anti-satellite missile tests in the past.

Um Nowadays there are a lot of rocket bodies coming out of Russia.

Uh, there are missile bodies from China, and there are of course American objects as well.

There’s a European one, there’s a long list of objects that are up there.

They are usually catalogued.

So we know who owns what objects, and many objects come from collisions. In particular, in 2009 there was a collision between the cosmos and the Iridium satellite.

So Cosmos was a Russian S-satellite iridium, an operational American communications satellite that collided and created a large debris field.

But uh, but it’s a big mix up there that belongs to a little bit of each, each spacefaring country.

And so Luke, the goal of your company is to get there, clean it up, clean up the space junk.

How do you do that?

So what we’re working on is developing a submarine or a tow truck for space.

Um We, we’re developing this, the idea is to pick up larger pieces of debris or larger objects in space and then help support them in their reentry, get them back under control and then make sure they go back into Earth in one go.

This is possible in orbit around the earth.

You can actually offer several other services.


What’s happening now is that the space debris problem is happening as a side effect of an industry that has no service capacity whatsoever.

If we ran the road transport industry for 60 years without tow trucks, we would have broken down cars everywhere, and that’s about what we have in the room.

If you think about it, the service and maintenance in the road transport industry is integrated with that in the aviation or shipping industry. This is not the case for the space industry, which in recent years has been unable to offer such services in orbit. Technology makes it possible and that’s why we’re building a tow truck for space.

Luke, as you put it, it does sound expensive.

Luke, who’s paying you for this?

Is the?

Do you look at governments?

So in the early stages of our development, it is essentially an institutional mission that we lead today.

We have a mission with the European Space Agency for about 100 million.

There’s another mission we’re working on with the British Space Agency.

There is a third mission where we are working on the Life Extension, the capacity to capture extended slides from Satell and most of the initial development phase and non-recurring engineering costs are essentially determined by the institutional mission.

In the long term, we think it will essentially be the beneficiary of the space infrastructure who will pay for the services that are needed.

What’s happening today is that launching states are liable for the objects in orbit as long as they remain there, and that will likely be necessary as things develop behind them.

And already we can see this trend.

The US FCC has moved from a 25-year period for satellites in orbit to a five-year period after the end of the satellite’s operational life.

These changes will likely be implemented globally, with all the different launch statuses and requirements for satellite operators and agencies.

I just want to understand that, because it’s interesting.

So you’re saying that efforts are now being made to stop the space junk problem before it even becomes a problem?

I mean you make spacecraft that have some kind of program designed to get into orbit around the Earth on their own once the mission is over.

So most satellites are programmed into orbit independently at the end of their mission.

Two problems arise: In general, there is a certain percentage chance that satellites in orbit will fail.

This means that you cannot guarantee that 100% of the satellites will be able to enter orbit at the end of their mission. The space environment is particularly harsh, which makes it even more difficult.

But then there are other cases where, for example, if you have a very large satellite, weighing, say, 23 or 4 tons, a large portion of the satellite’s propellant, it will be used only for deployment. in orbit, because you can’t just drop it anywhere on the Earth’s surface.

You have to send him across the South Pacific, where there is no human life, right?

And that requires a huge amount of fuel in these cases. This fuel could be used to extend the life of the satellite with multiple investment cycles and then for maintenance to take the satellite out of orbit.

So there are different use cases and use cases for the services that we build.

But basically it’s about removing either satellites that cannot be removed on their own, or satellites where it makes great economic sense to remove them with assistance.

Luke It, it’s such a fascinating subject.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join the show and walk us through it.

We appreciate it.

Don’t mention it.

Thank you for having me here.

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