Aging satellites and space debris is a growing problem. Many companies and scientists around the world are trying to find a solution to it.
In this effort, an American aerospace startup, Rocket Lab, has signed a dedicated launch contract with Astroscale Japan to launch the first large-scale demonstration mission for space junk removal. The mission is scheduled to lift off in 2023 from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1, New Zealand.
Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will launch the Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) satellite, which has been selected by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for Phase I of its Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration Project (CRD2), one of the world’s first technology demonstrations of removing large-scale debris from orbit.
The ADRAS-J satellite is designed to rendezvous with a JAXA rocket’s upper stage currently floating through space at around 27,000 km/h (17,000 mph), using cameras and LiDAR to come within 100 m (330 ft) of the target. It aims to demonstrate proximity operations and obtain images of the rocket body, delivering observational data to better understand the debris environment. The process requires complex maneuvering and absolute precision when it comes to orbital deployment that they want to demonstrate on this mission.
The planned second phase of the mission intends to demonstrate the de-orbit of the debris. The second phase is still under development, so no information is yet available on the exact method.
“The ability to actively remove satellites and debris from orbit at the end of their operational life will likely play a key role in ensuring a sustainable space environment for the future, so we’re delighted to enable Astroscale to demonstrate new and innovative solutions in this field,” said Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Peter Beck.
“Reliable and commercially viable launch vehicles like Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket enable frequent and flexible access to space, allowing us to advance our on-orbit services, which are fundamental to the growth of the space infrastructure and economy,” said Nobu Okada, Founder, and CEO of Astroscale. “Rocket Lab and Astroscale have become leaders in our respective markets, and I am thrilled to collaborate on ADRAS-J, a groundbreaking mission that will shape the technologies and policies needed to drive space sustainability forward.”