ESA Goes Clean Space

ESA Goes Clean Space
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The European Space Agency (ESA) has created an initiative entitled Clean Space. Its mission is to “reduce the environmental effect of Europe’s space activities, cutting waste and pollution on Earth and in orbit”. This will be done by using “new tools to assess environmental effects, more eco-friendly replacements for materials and techniques, and ways to halt the production of more space debris and bring down existing debris levels.” The program is dedicated to the ever growing space debris problem that could very well impede the future of safe space travel as well as clear transmission regarding cell phone usage, GPS, etc.

Out of the Gate in 2015

This initiative is on target to begin in 2015 and implores the help of space agencies around the globe. ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain comments, “We will not succeed alone; we will need everyone’s help. The entire space sector has to be with us.” It is an initiative that is one of the first to respond to the ever growing fear of space debris catastrophes. One single screw travelling at 16,000mph can easily pierce a satellite or worse yet, a manned spaced shuttle causing irreparable damage and loss of life. To put it in an even more sobering perspective, according to the ESA, of the approximately 6000 satellites launched since the beginning of the Space Age, only about less than 1000 are still operational. The rest are destroyed by explosions due to remaining fuel or battery decomposition creating billions of pieces of debris from the size of a fingernail to the size of a bus.

Hollywood Junk

When Hollywood displays possible future scenarios many times they eventually come true. In 2013 ‘Gravity’, the new George Clooney space film, will be released. It follows Clooney and Sandra Bullock in space stranded amongst, yup you guessed it, space junk. These low-earth orbiting defunct devices begin creating a lethal debris cloud due to their constant collisions. It is a scenario that is not completely impossible.

Space Pollution Cleanup Techniques

Although we have a lot to accomplish on our own planet regarding environmental cleanup and prevention, space can become just as important. Therefore, many techniques are being implemented to remedy the ever rising space debris problem. Here are a few of the pending ideas:

  • Tethers and/or sails to drag debris out of low-Earth orbit.
  • ‘Design for Demise’ concepts which allow satellites that inadvertently pass through atmosphere re-entry to completely break apart rather than pose large falling debris which has already happened.
  • Robotic in-space satellite reparation and de-orbit missions.
  •  Biological reduction of toxic solid-propellant waste avoiding cumbersome and expensive cleanup scenarios.

Cleaning up space is not only a grand scheme it has the potential to also create a completely new employment sector. It is not hard to imagine a college degree in space debris manipulation. In turn, as a country-group effort is put into place, so may it be able to crossover into the on-Earth green mission. In essence, cleaning up space can become a win-win for space as well as earth rejuvenation.


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