Astroscale Launches Mission to Inspect Space Debris

Astroscale Holdings Inc., a Tokyo-based startup, has launched a spacecraft to inspect and survey space debris, a significant step in addressing the growing threat of human-made space junk. The spacecraft, part of the Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) mission, will attempt the world’s first close-up survey of large orbital debris. Astroscale’s goal is to develop junk-removal vehicles to counter the risks posed to operational satellites and space systems.

The spacecraft, launched from Rocket Lab USA Inc.’s launch complex in New Zealand on February 19, will conduct tests to ensure its equipment is functioning correctly. Astroscale plans to bring the vehicle within 100 meters of the upper stage of a rocket left in orbit by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in 2009. This mission involves circling the debris, measuring its spin rate, and making observations to assess the feasibility of future debris removal efforts.

Space debris poses a threat to satellites and spacecraft in orbit, and initiatives like ADRAS-J aim to develop technologies for the safe removal of debris. Astroscale’s founder and CEO, Nobu Okada, expressed the importance of addressing space debris issues and highlighted the company’s long-term goal of deploying junk-removal vehicles.

The ADRAS-J mission has received funding from JAXA’s Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration program, aimed at encouraging private companies to develop technologies for debris removal. Astroscale’s success in this mission could pave the way for future commercial debris removal services and contribute to ensuring the sustainability of space activities.

As the number of objects in Earth’s orbit continues to increase, efforts to address space debris become crucial for maintaining the functionality and safety of satellites, space missions, and other activities in space.