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EPFL spin-off ClearSpace enters €86 million contract with the European Space Agency

Tuesday 8 December 2020

© ClearSpace

ESA has signed an €86 million contract with an industrial team led by the Vaud-based start-up ClearSpace to purchase a unique service: the world’s first mission of space debris removal from orbit.

Following a competitive process initiated by the European Space Agency (ESA), an industrial team led by ClearSpace, an EPFL spin-off, was selected to lead the world’s first removal of an item of space debris from orbit. As a result, in 2025, the ClearSpace-1 mission will rendezvous, capture and bring down for reentry a Vespa payload adapter.

The €86 million supplied by ESA will be supplemented with an additional €24 million ClearSpace is raising from commercial investors. With this contract signature, a critical milestone for establishing a new commercial sector in space will be achieved. Purchasing the mission in an end-to-end service contract, rather than developing an ESA-defined spacecraft for in-house operation, represents a new way for ESA to do business.

A pioneering mission to remove debris from Earth orbit

In almost 60 years of space activities, more than 5,550 launches have resulted in some 42,000 tracked objects in orbit, of which about 23,000 remain in space and are regularly tracked. With today’s annual launch rates averaging nearly 100, and with break-ups continuing to occur at average historical rates of four to five per year, the number of debris objects in space will steadily increase.

Based in Ecublens in the canton of Vaud, ClearSpace will lead the ClearSpace-1 mission and demonstrate the technical ability and commercial capacity to significantly enhance the long-term sustainability of spaceflight.

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