Tokyo Startup Successfully Launches Space Debris Observation Satellite; Aiming for Future Space Business Development

Courtesy of Astroscale Japan Inc.
A rendering of a satellite approaching the wreckage of a rocket.

Tokyo-based space industry startup Astroscale Japan Inc. announced Monday that it successfully launched a satellite designed to approach and observe space debris.

The company plans to utilize the satellite’s observations to develop the technology with the aim of commercializing space debris removal.

According to the company, its Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) was launched at 11:52 p.m. Sunday from New Zealand aboard a rocket from a U.S. space company. The satellite was detached in space at an altitude of 600 kilometer and entered into its scheduled orbit.

ADRAS-J is about 1.2 meters high and 80 centimeters across. Using multiple small propulsion units, it will approach pieces of space debris, which orbit Earth at high speeds, potentially getting as close as a few meters. The satellite is targeting the wreckage of Japan’s H2A rocket, which was launched in 2009. It will use onboard cameras and laser surveying equipment to investigate the rocket’s damage.

The development of the satellite is part of a program by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) which aims to establish space debris removal technology in cooperation with private companies.

Astroscale hopes to use the data from the observation to develop a satellite equipped with a robotic arm for capturing and removing debris, the technology it aims to commercialize.

Project manager Eijiro Atarashi said, “This mission is the world’s first attempt to approach and survey space debris.”