Switzerland Announces Plan to Clean Up Space Junk

More than 19,000 man-made pieces of debris endanger orbiting satellites.

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Littering isn't just a problem for those of us on earth—there's also about 19,000 man-made objects gunking up Earth's orbit thousands of miles overhead.

So global nice guys Switzerland announced Thursday they were going to become galactic garbage gatherers with the launch of a trash-retrieving satellite, dubbed CleanSpaceOne.

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Ever since the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, bits of satellites and rockets have broken off in near space, remaining in an endless orbit around the planet. Those pieces of so-called "space junk," hurtling at speeds over 17,000 miles per-hour, could destroy the nearly 700 weather, telecom, and GPS satellites in orbit—not to mention potentially kill astronauts and space walkers.

In 2009 a $55 million American satellite collided with an inactive Russian Satellite, destroying it and creating 2,000 smaller pieces of debris in the process.

So Switzerland decided to do something about it—their just-announced CleanSpaceOne satellite will go into space grabbing debris and returning it to earth. Its first mission will be to retrieve Swisscube, the first satellite Switzerland ever launched.

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"The challenge for CleanSpaceOne is to go up there, rendezvous with Swisscube, round it up, grab it and bring it down to enter the atmosphere," says the Swiss Space Center's Muriel Richard.

Engineers plan to launch the space junk sweeping satellite by 2015.

Volker Gass, director of the Swiss Space Center, says in a video that the amount of harmful debris is getting out of hand.

"Something has to be done about this problem. Collisions between satellite and debris are bound to happen," he said. "There's going to be an avalanche effect, and more satellites are going to be destroyed."

 

jkoebler@usnews.com

Twitter: @jason_koebler