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ESA signs contract for 1st space junk removal

Capitalism in space: The European Space Agency (ESA) has now signed a contract with a private company, ClearSpace SA, for the first dedicated commercial mission to remove a piece of orbiting space junk.

ESA officials signed a contract with ClearSpace on Nov 13. to complete the safe deorbiting of a payload adapter launched aboard the second flight of the Arianespace Vega rocket in 2013.

Unlike traditional ESA contracts that involve the agency procuring and coordinating the mission, ClearSpace-1 is a contract to purchase a service: the safe removal of a piece of space debris. ESA officials said they intend this mission to help establish a new commercial sector led by European industry. The 86 million euros supplied by ESA will be supplemented with an additional 24 million euros ClearSpace is raising from commercial investors. Approximately 14 million euros of the privately-raised funding will be utilized for the mission, while the remaining 10 million will be set aside for contingencies, ESA spokesperson Valeria Andreoni told SpaceNews.

First, that the ESA has decided here to shift from running the mission and to merely being the customer buying the product from a private company is magnificent news. Europe has been, like NASA was in the 2000s, very reluctant to give up its total control in the design, construction, and launch of rockets and spacecraft. That they are now mimicking NASA’s own shift in the 2010s to this private model, as I outlined in detail in Capitalism in Space, means that ESA’s bureaucracy is finally coming around to the idea of freedom, capitalism, and private enterprise. What a thing!

Second, though this mission is commercial, it isn’t really a practical economic solution to the removal of most space junk. The contract will cost $104 million, plus the additional private capital ClearSpace has raised. None of this appears to include the launch cost. Yet, it will only remove one defunct object in orbit.

Such a technology will be useful for removing specific large pieces of space junk that pose a risk should they crash to Earth. It will not be economically useful for removing the small junk in orbit that threatens other working satellites and spacecraft. For that technology to be cost effective it will need to be able to clean up many objects on a single flight.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

One comment

  • Marcus

    It also removes large junk that could at some point become thousands of pieces of small junk after a collision. So a good thing even if not large enough to threaten the earth.

    I would also guess the quickest way to find more economical methods of removal is to start flying and learning. If we wait for the economical method to appear first, it may never arrive or arrive too late to be useful.

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