A lightweight version of the International Space Station’s robotic arm will help space sustainability company Astroscale remove decades-old space junk from Earth orbit in the first mission of its kind.
Astroscale, which has offices in Japan and the United Kingdom, was previously active. space debris with lifting technology ELSA-d tasksuccessfully captured a piece of simulated debris using a magnetic system in 2021. This technology requires the target satellite to be equipped with a magnetic docking plate from the start, and so can only be used on satellites developed with debris removal in mind, such as those launched by Astroscale’s downstream partner, internet mega-constellation operator OneWeb. up task ELSA-M.
But the new technology developed for a UK-funded mission called Cosmic (To Clean Up Outer Space Mission by Innovative Capture) aims to take active space debris removal to another level by targeting never-before-used old satellites that have been rolling in space for decades. Special features for a lifting spacecraft to attach.
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“The function of this mission is to remove two pieces of defunct UK debris satellites that are currently there,” Jason Foreshaw, Astroscale’s head of future business, told Space.com. “There are satellites that were launched in the 1990s and are really near the end of their life, and most of them are in some sort of region under 100 kilograms. [220 pounds]. And so our goal is to actually launch this mission to remove two of these failed satellites roughly 500 to 800 kilometers high. [310 to 490 miles]”
The cosmic debris removal spacecraft will likely face far more challenges than ELSA-M, a collaboration with OneWeb. Long unused satellites that Cosmic will target may be partially disintegrated in the harsh environment of space, and falling fragments could make them difficult to capture. Long-dead spacecraft are also likely to somersault as they launch at speeds above 15,000 mph (24,000 km/h) in vacuum, making capture even more difficult.
“It’s very, very difficult to catch a dead satellite that’s been in space for 30 years,” Foreshaw said. “We don’t know the condition of the satellite. Is it structurally sound? Did it fall off parts? Was it hit by debris? Space is a tough environment. Do a study to see what it looks like exactly. Is it the same as when it was launched 30 years ago? I think those are some of the main challenges.”
Astroscale thinks it can meet this challenge using autonomous navigation software tested by ELSA-d and a cutting-edge robotic arm currently developed by MDA. International Space stationrobotics Canadian Arm2 in the 1990s.
Foreshaw said the robotic arm will capture the old satellite with a launch adapter ring, a circular structure used to mount the payload to the rocket. The scrap collector would then drag the debris into a very low orbit, where it would quickly enter. earth atmosphere and burn the Debris removal spacecraft would then return to collect a second object.
The mission is currently considering funding from the UK Space Agency, which will decide between Astroscale and a rival cleanup proposal from Switzerland-based CleanSpace.
If selected, the mission will begin in 2026, about a year after ELSA-M. Through the ELSA-M, Astroscale hopes to further mature its technologies, particularly the autonomous approach and navigation system, before attempting more difficult old scrap capture.
Space trash is a growing problem. About 34,260 debris objects are currently being tracked by space surveillance networks, including used rocket stages, old satellites, and parts created in collisions. According to the European Space Agency (ESA). This number is bound to increase in the coming years as more and more satellites are launched; which is operated by OneWeb and SpaceXcolossal star connection network.
Scientists worry that the amount of runaway objects hurling around the planet could lead to destructive, fragment-producing orbital collisions. In addition to putting working satellites at risk, these collisions can make the orbital environment around Earth too dangerous for satellites to operate in the long run, because each orbital collision will produce so many fragments that more collisions will occur. This series of collisions, known as Kessler Syndromewas first theorized in the late 1970s by former NASA scientist Donald Kessler. Some scientists think that the first stages of this disturbing phenomenon may have already begun. Active debris removal is seen as a key technology to keep the field usable for decades to come.
Astroscale also plans to study and then remove a scene of a Japanese rocket launched using a spacecraft built in collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). According to Astroscale, this spacecraft, named ADRAS-J, could begin its space cleanup mission in 2025. ESA also plans to remove a used rocket body from orbit by 2025 using a scrap collector spacecraft built by Astroscale’s competitor. Open area.
Astroscale detailed the plans for its Cosmic mission in a new video released exclusively to Space.com.
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