A vacuum cleaner for space


This illustration shows the CleanSpace One satellite chasing a piece of space junk. (Swiss Space Center/Associated Press)
February 17, 2012

You probably groan if your mom asks you to clean up your room, but what if your chore were to clean up outer space!

Swiss scientists said last week that they plan to launch a “janitor satellite” specially designed to get rid of space junk, the orbiting debris that can damage valuable satellites or even manned spaceships.

The $11 million satellite called CleanSpace One would be launched within three to five years, and its first tasks will be to grab two Swiss satellites that were launched in 2009 and 2010 but will be no longer be used.

The U.S. space agency NASA says more than 500,000 pieces of spent rocket stages, broken satellites and other debris are orbiting Earth. The debris travels at speeds approaching 17,500 miles per hour, fast enough to destroy or damage a satellite or spacecraft. Collisions, in turn, generate even more fragments floating in space.

There have been no reports of space junk ever hitting anyone on Earth.

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