Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket Set to Embark on Space Debris Clearing Mission

A compact satellite constructed by Japan-based company Astroscale is set to launch on a mission to examine a defunct rocket body currently in orbit. This operation is part of a broader initiative to pioneer methods for the removal of space debris. The satellite, called the Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J), will be transported into space via a Rocket Lab Electron rocket launched from the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

ADRAS-J’s mission involves making contact and observing the used upper-stage rocket of an H-2A rocket that was originally launched in January 2009. This initiative forms part of a program by the Japanese space agency (JAXA) known as the Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration. The program’s aim is to establish the foundation for an upcoming mission to guide the rocket stage out of orbit, a mission which is currently planned for 2026.

The ADRAS-J satellite will initially approach the 11-meter-long 3-tonne rocket using data gathered from ground-based observation. The satellite will then switch to its onboard sensors to complete the approach. The ADRAS-J is outfitted with a combination of visual and infrared cameras as well as LiDAR sensors. Upon reaching the rocket, the satellite will assess the rocket body’s condition and determine the degree of its tumbling motion.

Astroscale, the company behind ADRAS-J, was established in 2013 with the aim of providing on-orbit servicing and space debris removal services. With its headquarters in Japan, the company has branches in the United Kingdom, United States, France, and Israel.

According to the mission plan, the ADRAS-J spacecraft will be released from the Electron’s Curie kick stage approximately 64 minutes and 30 seconds into the flight. This will mark the 44th Electron launch to date, and the second mission of Rocket Lab in 2024. The mission has been dubbed “On Closer Inspection” by Rocket Lab.

The mission of ADRAS-J is of high importance considering the growing concern over space debris. Such debris poses potential risks to satellites, space stations, and other spacecraft. Therefore, this mission could provide valuable insights and pave the way for future space debris removal operations.

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