TAMPA, Fla. — ClearSpace has started procuring spacecraft parts for its inaugural debris de-orbit mission in 2026, the Swiss startup said after announcing Feb. 21 it had cleared its first major program review.

The venture said it passed the European Space Agency’s Key Performance Gate 1 (KPG1) milestone at the end of 2022, or phase 1, to conclude the initial design phase for its servicer.

Muriel Richard-Noca, ClearSpace’s co-founder and chief technology officer, said it achieved the milestone after prototype tests in October at an ESA technology center in the Netherlands validated “the soundness of our concepts.”

ClearSpace has not provided specific details about these proof-of-concept tests or the servicer’s design.

Richard-Noca said the phase 1 process involved identifying and assessing technical risks in addition to finalizing its plan to rendezvous, capture, and de-orbit debris with a spacecraft equipped with four articulated arms.

Under a 110 million euro ($117 million) contract secured from ESA in 2020, ClearSpace aims to use the servicer’s robotic arms to capture a spent upper stage from a 2013 Vega launch.

After catching the 112-kilogram piece of debris in low Earth orbit (LEO), the 500-kilogram servicer is designed to attempt a controlled re-entry that would burn up the payload and the servicer in the atmosphere. 

With the procurement of parts from subcontractors to manufacture flight models currently underway, Richard-Noca expects work to integrate the servicer to begin next year.

An artistic impression of ClearSpace’s servicer approaching its target, the upper part of a Vespa (Vega Secondary Payload Adapter) left after a 2013 launch.

ClearSpace is also competing with Japan-based Astroscale for a UK Space Agency contract to remove two as-yet-unidentified spacecraft from LEO in 2026.

Richard-Noca expects the U.K. will pick a winner for this mission early next year.

ClearSpace and Astroscale hope these and other government-funded missions will help pave the way to commercial services for de-orbiting hazardous debris.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...