Earth's first 'space litter pickers' will clean up orbital junk from 2025 – to stop it TRAPPING humanity

SPACE chiefs have signed a £100million contract to clear up debris from Earth's orbit.

Launching in 2025, an unmanned “tow truck” will target part of a European Space Agency rocket left floating 435 miles up.

The deal was announced last year, and the European Space Agency (ESA) will hold a round table next week to discuss the details of the flight.

Once in space, the craft will grab debris with its robotic arms before returning to Earth. Both will burn up in the atmosphere on re-entry.

Swiss start-up ClearSpace has been chosen by the ESA to carry out what is believed to be a world first mission.

The British Government is contributing £10million to the cost of the mission, dubbed Clearspace-1.

"ClearSpace-1 … will rendezvous, capture and bring down for reentry a Vespa payload adapter," ESA wrote in a press release on Thursday.

Over the past 60 years, more than 5,550 launches have resulted in roughy 42,000 bits of space junk in orbit.

Of these, about 23,000 remain in space and are regularly tracked.

The junk is a mixture of defunct satellites, jettisoned rocket parts and smaller pieces of debris produced by collisions and explosions in orbit.

Scientists have previously warned that the ever-growing amount of debris surrounding our planet threatens to trigger a catastrophic cascade of collisions that could knock out working satellites.

If this were to continue unchecked, it could take down communication systems and render parts of space inaccessible.

Some experts have even suggested a further build up of debris could trap humanity on Earth because rocket launches would become too dangerous.

The ClearSpace-1 mission is the first step toward building an industry where companies are paid to clear some of this debris up.

Launching to 310 miles (500km) above Earth, the spacecraft will join the orbit of a Vespa payload adapter left by an Arianespace Vega rocket in 2013.

With a mass of 112 kilos (246lb), the Vespa target is close in size to a small satellite, according to ESA.

ClearSpace-1 will rendevous with the object and grab it, at which point the pair will deorbit until they safely burn up in the atmosphere.

ESA's roundtable next week includes the space agency's director general and the CEO of ClearSpace.

ESA says the briefing, scheduled for 12:30 GMT on December 1, will explain the ambitious mission design and detail the next steps leading to launch.

Speaking last year, ClearSpace founder Luc Piguet warned of the dangers posed by space junk.

"This is the right time for such a mission. The space debris issue is more pressing than ever before," he said.

“The space debris issue is more pressing than ever before.

“Today we have nearly 2,000 live satellites in space and more than 3,000 failed ones.”

Terrifying space weapons of the future

Here are three of the scariest…

Rods from God

  • A strange but utterly terrifying weapon has been dubbed "rods from the God" and is based on the concept of creating man-made meteorites that can be guided towards the enemy.
  • Instead of using rocks rods the size of telephone poles are deployed.
  • These would be made out of tungsten — a rare metal that can stand the intense heat generated by entering Earth's atmosphere.
  • One satellite fires the rods towards the Earth's atmosphere while the other steers them to a target on the ground.
  • Reaching speeds of 7000mph they hit the ground with the force of a small nuclear weapon — but crucially creating no radiation fall out.
  • As bizarre as it sounds, a US Congressional report recently revealed the military has been pushing ahead with the kinetic space weapons.

Molten metal cannons

  • This intriguing idea is being developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
  • It is called the Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munition or MAHEM.
  • This game changing rail-gun can fire a jet of molten metal, hurled through space at several hundred miles per second by the most powerful electromagnets ever built.
  • The molten metal can then morph into an aerodynamic slug during flight and pierce through another spacecraft or satellite and a munition explodes inside.

Space force ships

  • Already the United States is powering head with its spacecraft, although China is busy developing one of their own.
  • The top secret American XS-1 under development by DARPA.
  • It can travel ten times the speed of sound and launch missiles.
  • Meanwhile an unmanned craft is currently being developed in the China Aerodynamics Research and Development Centre in Mianyang, Sichuan province, which is also known as Base 29.

He warned of “multiple mega-constellations” made up of thousands of satellites if no action is taken.

“The need is clear for a 'tow truck' to remove failed satellites from this highly trafficked region,” he added.

ESA boss Jan Worner hopes the mission will pave the way for a new industry of in-orbit debris removal.

"Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water," said Mr Worner.

"That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue."

In other news, The Sun spoke to a space debris expert earlier this month about the dangers the junk poses to humanity.

SpaceX boss Elon Musk wants to send humans to Mars as early as 2024 aboard the firm's huge new Starship rocket.

And, Nasa set a hillside on fire during a recent test of the "most powerful rocket ever built".

What do you think of ESA's space junk plans? Let us know in the comments!

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