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How much is the ESA paying to remove a piece of space junk?

Answer: $103 million.

space junk in the atmosphere
Shutterstock/Dotted Yeti
At the moment, there are an estimated 22,300 pieces of space junk floating around in low earth orbit. These are pieces of equipment that no longer serve any useful function, and the more defunct tech that ends up there, the higher the chances for a dangerous collision become. But we haven’t yet come up with many good ways of removing them.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is hoping to change that with a historic new partnership. The agency recently announced a $103 million deal with Swiss startup ClearSpace to use its tech to remove a piece of debris from low earth orbit five years from now. This will be, according to the ESA, “the first removal of an item of space debris from orbit.”

The object in question is the 247-pound Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (Vespa) that was used to launch a Proba-V satellite in 2013. It has been circling in low earth orbit ever since with no use or purpose. ClearSpace is developing a spacecraft with a conical net that will capture the Vespa and then return to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere. If all goes according to plan, the ESA hopes that this project could lead to “a new commercial sector in space” for debris removal.