Astroscale's ADRAS-J Satellite: Leading the Charge in Space Debris Cleanup

Astroscale’s ADRAS-J Satellite: Leading the Charge in Space Debris Cleanup

A pioneering clean-up mission took to the skies this morning as a Rocket Lab Electron rocket carried a special Japanese satellite into orbit. This little orbiter has big ambitions – to tackle the growing problem of space junk clogging up our night sky.

The Astroscale ADRAS-J satellite tipped the scales at 150 kg (around 330 lbs) when it launched at 9:52am EST today from New Zealand. You might be wondering, what exactly does “ADRAS-J” stand for? Well, it’s a mouthful: Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan.

See, space junk is becoming a major headache as thousands of dead satellites, old rocket parts, and other debris zip around Earth. This high-tech litter threatens working spacecraft with dangerous collisions. Enter ADRAS-J, the first satellite on a mission to rendezvous with a hunk of junk nearly twice its size!

Using a suite of special cameras and sensors, ADRAS-J will carefully approach its target in the coming months. Up close, it will assess the rogue object’s size, shape and condition – valuable intel for future clean-up jobs.

This is just Phase I of an orbital debris removal program cooked up by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The data beamed back from ADRAS-J will help engineers design actual debris-grabbing missions.

Astroscale, the startup behind the satellite, ultimately envisions fleets of craft sweeping space junk from popular orbits. The company already demonstrated their magnetic debris-capture technology on an earlier mission in 2021. And they have plans to drag two dead British satellites out of orbit in 2026.

As satellite mega-constellations continue flooding space near Earth, decluttering all this new tech trash is critical. Without clean-up efforts, space junk could make key orbits totally unusable in the future.