The European Space Agency (ESA) has signed a 86-million-euros (approximately $103 million) contract with an industrial team led by the Swiss startup ClearSpace SA for safe removal of an inactive object from low Earth orbit.
With this contract signature, a critical milestone for establishing a new commercial sector in space will be achieved, ESA said on Thursday.
The mission will target the Vespa -- Vega Secondary Payload Adapter.
As a result, in 2025, ClearSpace will launch the first active debris removal mission, ClearSpace-1, which will rendezvous, capture and bring down for reentry a Vespa payload adapter.
This object was left in an approximately 801 km by 664 km-altitude gradual disposal orbit following the second flight of Vega back in 2013.
With a mass of 112 kg, the Vespa target is close in size to a small satellite.
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, ESA said.
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.
ClearSpace-1 will demonstrate the technical ability and commercial capacity to significantly enhance the long-term sustainability of spaceflight, ESA said.
ESA said it is purchasing the initial mission and contributing key expertise, as part of the Active Debris Removal/ In-Orbit Servicing project (ADRIOS) within ESA's Space Safety Programme.
ClearSpace SA will raise the remainder of the mission cost through commercial investors.
Companies from a wide range of European countries are involved in the ClearSpace-1 mission.
While the lead for the industrial team lies with ClearSpace SA, contributions come from enterprises in Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal and Romania, ESA said.
Mission experts will provide more details in an online round table for media on December 1.