BFH supports the world’s first ‘space junk’ removal mission

27.06.2023 Have you ever wondered how risky it is for a spacecraft to touch an object in space? In addition to potential mechanical damages from a collision, there are also static electricity hazards. This is the topic, where the start-up ClearSpace is working together with the High Voltage and EMC Laboratory of the BFH.

In case of a ‘heavy touch’ or collision, a spacecraft might be damaged mechanically. But what if a spacecraft softly docks to a space station or collects an object in space? In this case, there is still risk of a damage, albeit, of electrical origin.

Simply speaking, spacecraft can get zapped, or, in other words, electrostatic discharge (ESD) can happen. ESD occurs when differently charged objects are brought together. ESD results in an energy transfer which could lead to malfunction or damage of the spacecraft equipment.

This is why ClearSpace and the High Voltage and EMC Laboratory initiated a collaboration about ESD. Early prototypes were already tested, and their performances assessed. The team from the BFH has built up a special test setup that provided not only high negative voltage levels but also high amounts of charge replicating space conditions.

ClearSpace was founded in 2018 in Switzerland, developing vital services for the future of space exploration and operations. ClearSpace was selected by ESA (European Space Agency) to lead ClearSpace-1, the world’s first mission to remove debris from Orbit by 2026.

Tests performed at BFH have given ClearSpace engineers much needed data to evaluate prototype performance and continue the development of the last version. Once available, further tests and analysis will take place at the Laboratory in Burgdorf.

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