Small and inexpensive low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite are quickly becoming almost mainstream but as constellations spring up, so do the problems and dangers of space junk.

OneWeb, SpaceX, Starlink, Telesat are rarely out of the press at the moment, but flying slightly below the radar is the sticky problem of what happens to redundant hardware and who polices space traffic.

“With 1,700 satellites launched last year alone, the need to safeguard the space environment for the benefit of everyone on Earth has never been more pressing” points out Dr Paul Bate, CEO of the UK Space Agency and indeed with an estimated 130 million plus pieces of space debris orbiting Earth, ranging from tiny flecks of paint through to old satellites and even tools dropped by astronauts, you can see the problem.

Now the UK Space Agency has committed £102 million, over the next three years to tracking and reduce debris, including granting £4 million to two UK-based companies to design missions to remove existing pieces of space debris. The companies ClearSpace and Astroscale are currently designing the programmes with a consortium of industry partners and may be granted more funding once designs are complete with a view to launching the UK’s first national space debris removal mission in 2026. The projects could create upwards of 70 new jobs.

Rory Holmes, ClearSpace UK Managing Director said “Space is getting more and more congested with defunct satellites, rocket bodies and other fragments – we have to act now to ensure this precious environment remains usable for future generations.”

Nick Shave, Managing Director, Astroscale Ltd, said: “We rely on space in so many areas of our lives, yet without the rapid development of the in-orbit servicing market we cannot start removing the hazardous debris that threatens our societal dependence on satellites.”

According to Paul Kostek, IEEE senior member and advisory systems engineer with Base2 solutions there’s going to be a big shake-up going forward and discussion around deployment and management of satellites needs to be taking place now.

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