Two thirds of the ‘dead’ satellites orbiting Earth pose a ‘very big danger’ to the planet, European Space Agency warns, as it announces its plan to bring them back down to Earth

  • European ministers are meeting in Spain to discuss funding for space projects
  • European Space Agency says one project could see it de-orbit dead satellites 
  • The agency also hopes to work with NASA to push meteoroids away from Earth
  • Delegations from EU member states that contributes to ESA are at the  meeting 

About two-thirds of the satellites orbiting the Earth are dead and pose a ‘very big danger’ to the planet, European space ministers were warned at a meeting in Spain.  

The European Space Agency (ESA) is proposing a mission to tackle the growing problem of space debris including 3,000 inactive satellites.

Ministers responsible for space policy in Europe are meeting at a conference in Seville, Spain to discuss funding for ESA over the next three years.

The mission would see the space agency capture dead ESA-owned satellites and bring them back down to Earth.

About two-thirds of the satellites orbiting the Earth are dead – about 3,000 of about 4,500 objects – and pose a ‘very big danger’ to the planet, European space ministers were warned at a meeting in Spain (artist’s impression)

‘At the same time with the same mission we would also demonstrate that it’s possible to avoid future space debris by doing also some direct de-orbiting’, Johann-Dietrich Worner, ESA Director General said.

As well as hoping to tackle the problem of space debris, ESA is planning a mission to detect and prevent hazards posed by meteorites. 

‘The human race does not want to be wiped out in the same manner as dinosaurs’.

Mr Worner also identified solar flares as a potential danger to Earth, saying it is important to have an early pre-warning system for issues in space. 

As for dealing with meteoroids, he said ESA and NASA would work together to create a mission to tackle the problem, which he describes as ‘playing billiards in space’.

Speaking at the opening session of the meeting, Mr Worner said that given today’s technology it would be ‘smart’ to look at bringing samples back from Mars, rather than putting astronauts on the red planet.

He said: ‘Therefore, we are looking for very a impressive mission, which should get samples back from Mars to have a very direct investigation of the samples here on Earth in our laboratories.

‘This mission looks very simple – you fly to Mars, you get some samples back.’

However he explained it would involve an American rover collecting samples and leaving them in tiny containers on the planet’s surface, to be collected by a European rover once it had moved on to another area.

After finding the samples the European rover would put them in a bigger container and take them to a small launch space where it would be launched into the planet’s orbit.

The Mars sample return mission is a $7billion project involving two Mars rovers and the first rocket launch from another planet. It is being run by ESA and NASA and will see an ESA spacecraft return samples from the Red Planet to Earth 

Mr Worner added: ‘And then a European mission will go there, get this container and bring it back to the Earth.

UK science minister Chris Skidmore is not attending the talks, but a British delegation is present to discuss how much money the UK will put forward for its ESA membership contribution.

A spokesman said: ‘The UK has a world-leading space industry. As a founding member and one of the main contributors to the European Space Agency, we have sent a UK delegation to the ministerial conference to participate actively in discussions.’

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