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Esa signs contracts for zero-debris satellite technologies

 Image: janiecbros, via Getty Images

European Space Agency builds on long-term partnership with three major European aerospace companies

The European Space Agency has signed contracts with three major companies for them to develop technologies to prevent future satellites from adding to the amount of debris surrounding the Earth, which is posing a growing threat to orbiting craft.

Esa announced on 26 June that Airbus Defence and Space, OHB and Thales Alenia Space would work on platforms for low-Earth orbit satellites “as a first step towards building zero-debris production lines”. Platforms are the parts of satellites that equipment such as scientific instruments can be attached to.

The agency has long been warning that debris left behind by defunct satellites and past launches poses a growing threat to new launches and craft that are still operating, due to its increasing density around the Earth.

Need to invest

“It is essential to invest into the development of zero-debris compliant spacecraft platforms now. Platforms and their onboard debris prevention measures will have to become more failsafe to preserve the endangered lower Earth orbits for future use,” said Holger Krag, Esa’s head of space safety.

Esa said that the three companies had been its “long-time partners” in efforts to achieve zero space debris from new launches by 2030. They have all signed a Zero Debris Charter facilitated by Esa, along with 12 countries and other companies.

“The space sector in Europe and beyond [has] come together to show its commitment towards the zero debris by 2030 goals. The time has come to make them a reality, and we can only achieve this goal together,” said Tiago Soares, clean space lead engineer at Esa.

“We see the momentum of these zero-debris efforts pick up steam as they become more concrete.”