Historic Mission Launched to Monitor Space Junk

Historic Mission Launched to Monitor Space Junk

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This historic mission to inspect and monitor a large piece of space junk was launched by Rocket Lab and Astroscale Japan atop an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab’s launch site.

Astroscale Japan is leading Phase I of JAXA’s Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration program, which involves designing, manufacturing, testing, launching, and operating the ADRAS-J satellite – Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan.

According to Interesting Engineering, ADRAS-J is the world’s first mission to perform Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (also referred to as RPO) with an existing large piece of debris, and it is meant to safely approach, characterize, and survey its condition.

This recent launch is part of a larger orbital debris removal program aiming to tackle the growing problem of space junk, which is threatening the safety and sustainability of space activities. Astroscale claims that there are over 23,000 pieces of debris that are larger than 10 cm in orbit, and millions of smaller ones that could still cause damage to operational satellites.

The ADRAS-J satellite is also meant to provide data that will assist in removing space junk, to ensure the sustainable use of space for future generations, according to a statement by Rocket Lab.

Astroscale is a company that is pioneering orbital debris removal, with subsidiaries and branches in Israel, the US, the UK, and France. Since its launch in 2013, the company launched various demonstration missions, like the ELSA-d mission in 2021, which used a magnetic system to capture and release a simulated piece of debris in orbit.

Astroscale reportedly plans to launch a mission called COSMIC (“Cleaning Outer Space Mission through Innovative Capture”) in 2026, the goal of which will be to remove two defunct British satellites from orbit using a robotic arm.