Peter Beck Discusses Rocket Lab’s Pioneering Launch to Tackle Space Debris

Rocket Lab, a private aerospace company, has initiated a mission to clean up space debris, taking a significant step toward addressing the growing problem of space pollution. The mission, named “On Closer Inspection,” will launch the ADRAS-J (Active Debris Removal by Astroscale Japan) satellite into low-Earth orbit, which will then observe and collect data about a derelict rocket for six months.

According to NASA, approximately 9000 tonnes of space junk, including around 3000 derelict spacecraft and spent rocket stages, are currently orbiting Earth at high speeds. This debris has been increasing as more satellites reach the end of their lifespan, posing a potential threat known as the Kessler Syndrome. This scenario involves a space debris collision triggering a domino effect that could spiral out of control, leading to significant disruptions in communication and GPS systems.

The ADRAS-J satellite will be ferried into position alongside the upper stage of H2A, a Japanese rocket used to launch an Earth observation satellite in 2009. This task is particularly challenging given that the space junk is not under any control and does not share any information. The satellite will depend on radar data from the ground to locate and approach the stage carefully in the vastness of space.

If successful, this would be a world-first achievement in space debris cleanup. Astroscale, the company behind the satellite, received a grant of 12 billion yen (NZ$131 million) from the Japanese Government for this mission. The ultimate goal is to develop a craft that can dock with a piece of space junk and pull it back to Earth to burn up in the atmosphere.

Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck acknowledges that while the risk of a chain reaction from space junk collision is a real possibility, we are still a long way from reaching that point. However, he strongly advocates for more control and hopes for a global set of regulations to manage space debris effectively.

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