Are We Finally Cleaning up Space Junk? ADRAS-J Reveals the Answer

A recent demonstration by Japanese company Astroscale has put the spotlight on a satellite capable of autonomously approaching space debris.

Known as ADRAS-J, this satellite was launched into low Earth orbit on February 18. The mission's primary focus was to test the potential future of removing debris floating around Earth. Astroscale has a vision: they want to be a significant figure in the rapidly developing market of debris de-orbiting.

ADRAS-J is unique. It has the ability to autonomously approach and rendezvous with uncontrolled debris, an accomplishment that no other satellite shares. After a fortnight of approach phase, ADRAS-J successfully came within a few hundred meters of an old H-IIA rocket stage that had been in space for 15 years and managed to photograph it.

A Successful Mission

The demonstration was not just a victory for Astroscale. The Japanese space agency, JAXA, which commissioned and closely monitored the operation, was also thrilled with the results. So much so, it congratulated Astroscale and signed a contract for an additional mission, ADRAS-J2.

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The next mission will take on the challenging task of capturing the same rocket stage and guiding it to burn up in Earth's atmosphere. This mission will be another breakthrough, providing a service that is becoming increasingly necessary as space laws and agreements about orbital debris tighten.

The Debris Problem

According to the European Space Agency (ESA), an estimated 2,220 rocket stages are currently orbiting as debris. Many of these remnants from the 60s, 70s, and 80s will naturally deorbit due to atmospheric drag over the coming decades. But some will need a helping hand.

Astroscale appears to be well-positioned in this market, ready to provide the solution to a problem that has long been ignored.

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