Wherever we humans go, we leave behind a mess. That goes for space, too.

Today, our species is responsible for more than 500,000 pieces of junk hurtling around Earth at phenomenal speeds, and if we don't start actively removing the largest pieces, the risk of collisions will only grow worse.

"Imagine how dangerous sailing the high seas would be if all the ships ever lost in history were still drifting on top of the water," says Jan Wörner, European Space Agency (ESA) director general.
欧洲航天局(ESA)局长Jan Wörner说:“想象一下如果曾经失踪的所有船只都漂浮在水面上,在公海航行会有多危险。”

"That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue."

It's almost as if we need a tow truck to remove all the thousands of failed satellites from our orbit; incidentally, that's exactly what the ESA is working on.

By 2025, the agency plans on launching the world's first orbiting junk collector, a four-armed robot that tracks down space waste like Pac-Man in a maze.

The first-of-its-kind mission, known as ClearSpace-1, will start out small, collecting only a single piece of space junk to prove the concept works. The target in this case is called Vespa, a leftover remnant from ESA's Vega rocket launch in 2013.

This piece of junk weighs roughly the same as a small satellite and has a simple shape that should make it easy to grab with four robotic arms. Once it's safely in the arms of the garbage collector, it will then be dragged out of orbit and allowed to burn up in the atmosphere.