Spacecraft launches to clean up space junk

Elsa-d is the world's first-ever commercial mission demonstrating a space debris removal system
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On March 22, a spacecraft named Elsa-d launched into space to clean up junk orbiting Earth. The issue of space junk has been a long-standing problem, and Japanese firm Astroscale hopes its spacecraft will help with the issue.

Elsa-d, which stands for End-of-Life Services, launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, in the world’s first-ever commercial mission to embark on this kind of mission.

It consists of two satellites – a servicer satellite and a client satellite, both of which will launch stacked together, according to the official website. “The service satellite has been developed to safely remove debris objects from orbit, equipped with proximity rendezvous technologies and a magnetic docking mechanism,” while the client satellite is a “piece of replica debris fitted with a ferromagnetic plate that enables the docking.”

The junk will be pushed into the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will eventually burn up.

The European Space Association (ESA) estimates that there are approximately 34,000 debris objects greater than 10 cm in space, around 900,000 between 1 cm to 10 cm in size, and about 128 million objects between 1 mm to 1 cm.

According to the Space Surveillance Networks, which regularly tracks debris objects, the total mass of all space objects in the Earth orbit is about 9,200 tonnes.

The launch of Elsa-d is a step in the right direction in achieving space sustainability. It is estimated that in the next decade over 10,000 satellites will launch, mostly from either SpaceX or OneWeb. With the increase in space traffic, there is no doubt that more debris will be created.

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