4 mins read 30 Sep 2021

Rocket Lab and Astroscale to Clean Space Junk

Rocket Lab is teaming up with Astroscale Japan to launch and deploy a space junk cleaning satellite in 2023. 

Rocket Lab has announced a new contract with Astroscale Japan to launch a space junk cleaning satellite. The satellite, Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J), is set to launch in 2023 from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. Astroscale’s satellite was 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. 

Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive Officer Peter Beck commented on the importance of space junk removal technology like the ADRAS-J satellite and Rocket Lab’s partnership with Astroscale. 

“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,” he said. 

Relying on Launch Efficiency to Clean Up Space

An artist’s rendition of the ADRAS-J satellite. Credit: Astroscale.

Nobu Okada, Founder and CEO of Astroscale stated that he looks forward to working with Rocket Lab to launch and test ADRAS-J.  

“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,” he said. 

“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.”

With the skies becoming ever more crowded by satellites and debris, space junk cleaning technology like the ADRAS-J from Astroscale are becoming all the more important. While there are several methods being explored for cleaning space junk, Astroscale Japan, founded in 2013, is the only company solely dedicated to on-orbit servicing across all orbits. 

Astroscale’s space junk solutions include life-extension, in-situ space situational awareness, end-of-life services, and active debris removal in order to increase the sustainability of space systems and mitigate the hazardous build-up of debris in space. 

A Mission to Clean Space Junk

Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. Credit: Rocket Lab.

Astroscale, teaming up with Rocket Lab, will complete several mission phases to test their ADRAS-J satellite. Phase I, to be launched in 2023, will consist of the satellite being deployed by the Electron rocket, Rocket Lab’s prime launch vehicle. ADRAS-J will then rendezvous with a piece of space junk - a long-abandoned upper stage rocket body. There, ADRAS-J aims to demonstrate proximity operations and obtain images of the rocket body, gathering observational data to better understand the debris environment. 

Phase II, which is still being planned, intends to see ADRAS-J demonstrate de-orbiting of the debris. 

Mr Beck stated that this mission will demonstrate immense technological skill.

“Rendezvousing with a piece of debris on orbit, travelling at around 27,000 km per hour, is a highly complex task that requires absolute precision when it comes to orbital deployment. Electron’s Kick Stage has demonstrated this precision across 18 missions, providing in-space transportation to place our customers’ satellites exactly where they need to go.” said Mr Beck. 

Rocket Lab, founded in 2006, is the US and New Zealand-based rocket launch company known for its quick launch turnarounds and quirky mission names. Their last few missions include It’s A Bit Chile Up Here and Love at First Insight.   

Video Credit: Astroscale.