(Bloomberg) -- The first ever space mission to remove man-made debris from Earth’s orbit is due to launch in 2025 as part of an initiative that could herald the cleanup of more than 3,000 defunct satellites.

Swiss startup Clearspace was selected for the mission by the European Space Agency following a competitive tender, ESA said on its website Monday.

The firm will embark on the project in March after submitting final proposals, with the initial contract aimed at establishing a new market for debris removal and in-orbit servicing, according to the agency.

“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,” ESA Director General Jan Wörner said in the release. “That is the current situation in orbit, and it cannot be allowed to continue.”

Clearspace was founded by researchers at the Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, or EPFL. Chief Executive Officer Luc Piguet said space-debris removal is becoming increasingly pressing with the impending launch of mega-constellations made up of hundreds or even thousands of satellites.

There are almost 2,000 live satellites in space, compared with 3,000 failed ones, ESA said. Including all debris, there are about 21,000 pieces of at least 10 centimeters in size, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Jasper in London at cjasper@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net, John Bowker, Tara Patel

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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