ESA’s new Technology Strategy includes an ambitious but essential pledge: to invert Europe’s contribution to space debris by 2030, allowing future generations to continue making full use of space.

’Inverting Europe’s contribution to space debris by 2030’ is one of four key pledges in the Technology Strategy, implying taking out of orbit some of our debris. The number of space debris is currently growing at an exponential speed and will continue raising even if we would stop launching today. That is why we have set this essential target,” explains Leopold Summerer, head of the ESA Advanced Concepts and Studies office.

When the Clean Space office was set up, its purpose was to spur ESA to become a global pioneer in introducing sustainability in space activities at a time when it was still a niche topic. This required long-term vision, and courage to go with it.

Now the responsible and sustainable use of orbital and other resources has become one of the four targets of ESA’s technology strategy, is fully integrated in all our activities and is a prime concern, especially in terms of the economic viability of some telecommunications – especially in terms of mega-constellations – and Earth observation businesses and the service reliability of navigation constellations.

This target addresses both, the European industry needs, and the clearly and frequently voiced priorities of the wider European public.

What specifically does the Technology Strategy target mean?

ESA aims to:

– ensure that all ESA missions will be environmentally neutral by 2020, meaning they do not produce debris larger than 1mm in orbit 

– develop technologies necessary for the successful active removal of space debris by 2024 

– develop technology allowing all ESA missions to be risk neutral by 2030, meaning they no longer produce debris.

Clean Space designs the technology needed to allow leaving the space environment in an even better stage to future generations.

To achieve this goal, ESA through Clean Space envisions and develops technology allowing us to leave the space environment in an even better state for future generations.

These technologies will help with:

– minimising the creation of new debris: CleanSat technologies, demisable components, end-of-life deorbiting technologies, retrieval interfaces

– removing large items of debris: advanced Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) for close proximity operations and in-space robotics. Removing large debris (when combined with a reduced production of new debris) is the only way to actually reverse the trend and invert the European contribution to space debris by 2030

– starting in-orbit servicing: refurbishing, refuelling, reorbiting technologies. The objective of in-orbit servicing is to extend lifespans, re-use or re-purpose spacecraft.

Investments into Clean Space technologies will provide a competitive advantage in the future growth of in-space servicing and support and sharpen the European space industry’s competitiveness at a global level.

The ESA Technology Strategy sets ambitious goals which can be achieved thanks to technologies prepared and developed by its Clean Space activities.