May 22, 2024

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Japan comes face to face with its space junk

Japan comes face to face with its space junk
  • Written by Jonathan Amos
  • Science Reporter
Comment on the photo, The old rocket fragment is visible about 600 kilometers above Earth

A satellite operated by Japanese company Astroscale chased down a 15-year-old piece of space junk and captured a close-up image of it.

The object is a discarded piece of rocket measuring about 11 meters by 4 meters (36 feet by 15 feet), and with a mass of three tons.

It's the first time anyone has been able to encounter a very large piece of space debris.

Astroscale is developing a project that offers to remove other people's redundant devices from orbit.

You will not do so on this occasion; The current mission revolves around testing the sensors and software needed for safe proximity operations. But the company says that aggressive efforts to pull a mass of waste from the sky should take place in the next two years.

The issue of orbital debris and the sustainable use of space is a hot topic right now.

Millions of technological detritus have accumulated in the sky since the beginning of the Space Age in 1957, from paint splatters to abandoned upper stages of rockets, like the one Astroscale just photographed.

Comment on the photo, The Adras-J inspection satellite will spend the coming weeks scanning the rocket section

This roving swarm of metals and other materials is at risk of colliding with and destroying the operational satellites we use to communicate and monitor the planet.

Rocket bodies pose a particular danger because of their enormous size.

The upper part of the missile ejected missiles at an altitude of about 600 kilometers.

But while modern rockets make sure all their parts return to Earth shortly after flight, this H-IIA stage stayed there. He is far from alone.

The European Space Agency has counted 2,220 rocket objects still in orbit today.

Comment on the photo, Future missions will use robotic arms to reach out and grab space junk

Astroscale calls its rendezvous mission Adras-J, or Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan.

It is carried out by an intelligent spacecraft launched on February 18. The satellite has been approaching the H-IIA object ever since.

Adras-J used cameras and algorithms to arrive at the final approach. You must be very careful not to hit the part of the rocket that slowly flips from end to end.

Astroscale employees in the United Kingdom built the mission's “ground segment,” the system used to communicate with Adras-J. They also did a lot of “flight dynamics” work, which is related to precision navigation.

Round-the-clock operations were shared between Mission Control in Tokyo and the British company's base at Harwell in Oxfordshire.

The plan is to spend the coming weeks taking more images and gathering information about the rocket part, such as the state of the structure, its rate of rotation, and its axis of rotation.

Adras-J will attempt to fly around the rocket's body in the process.

Future Astroscale missions will move and control their quarry with the help of robotic arms.

Comment on the photo, Artwork: What the scene might look like from the missile's perspective, looking at Adras-J

The activity will involve launching thrusters at the object in a direction opposite to its rotational motion. The pushrod pressure is supposed to slow the rotation rate.

A number of companies around the world are developing technologies similar to Astroscale.

To prevent a series of in-orbit collisions, it's essential that spacefaring nations begin removing several large pieces of waste each year, experts say.