Since our first forays into space, we've been leaving behind bits of debris: rocket stages, abandoned satellites, and pieces of spacecraft broken off in collisions. Left perpetually in orbit, this flotsam can make navigating space difficult and dangerous. But the Swiss Space Center at EPFL (the Federal Institute for Technology in Lausanne) has announced today that it will be making the skies a little safer with CleanSpace One, a "janitor satellite" that will fly through space, chase down space debris, and then carry them back through Earth's atmosphere to burn up on re-entry.
CleanSpace One, part of a proposed series of satellites, will be launched within three to five years. The first satellite will burn up with its quarry, but this may not be the case with later versions. Currently, EPFL scientists are working to create a motor powerful enough to keep up with the debris, which travel at speeds of 28,000 kilometers per hour (about 17,400 miles per hour), and to find a gripping mechanism that can keep hold of the rotating, fast-moving objects. Assuming the project is successful, the satellites can then start taking out some of the roughly 16,000 pieces of space junk.