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Cleaning up space with surgical precision

Cleaning up space with surgical precision

While Plastic Surgeon’s Finishers were being kept busy last week cleaning up and repairing all the damage, as well as wilful vandalism, that disfigures the UK’s buildings, your blogger was pleased to learn how the Swiss are planning to begin clearing up space debris with surgical precision.

In fact, while we at Plastic Surgeon are constantly involved in cutting waste going to landfill here on the Earth’s surface, the Swiss space centre at EPFL (the federal institute for technology in Lausanne) aims to send a “janitor satellite” into orbit, to sweep up debris and permanently remove it from orbit. The SFr10m (£7m) satellite, called CleanSpace One, could launch within five years, it is hoped.

Mankind has been putting objects such as spent rocket stages and communications satellites into orbit for more than half a century – all of which are travelling around us at almost 18,000 mph, serving only to be a hazard to present day space exploration.

Nasa keeps track of 16,000 pieces of orbiting junk that are larger than 10cm (4in) in diameter. There could be more than 500,000 measuring one to10cm and many hundreds of millions of smaller pieces.

Even a small fragment of debris could severely damage (or even destroy) satellites or other spacecraft that collide with them, creating even more of what is effectively a man-made metal asteroid belt. The International Space Station has to regularly alter its orbit to avoid being hit by large bits of junk.

Then, of course, these orbiting objects often fall back to Earth – just last year, Russia’s planned Mars moon probe never escaped Earth’s orbit after its November launch. It became one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash onto our planet. CleanSpace One’s maiden mission will be to latch onto one of the Swiss’ own redundant devices – either the T1sat or Swisscube picosatellite – and drag it down again.

The expectation is that the debris will burn up in the atmosphere, but even though it is not going to require recycling, it is an enormous expense to deal with one object, when compared to our service where the average cost of preventing something going to landfill is just a few pounds.

In fact our clients save £3 on building components – irrespective of the labour cost for replacing them – for every one pound they spend on our Finisher’s work. As I write this we have saved nearly 330,000 kg of waste going to landfill so far this year.

You have to remember, our very worldly ethos is that repair is more efficient and more sustainable than recycling: which is why we say: “Don’t skip it, fix it.”

Thinking about the way more sectors are coming to us all the time to take advantage of our services, maybe sometime in the future Plastic Surgeon will be tasked with preventing these space probes from becoming scrap to start with. So instead of white vans our Finishers will require white shuttle craft. Just watch this space …