Tiny Astroscale satellite will test space junk cleanup tech with magnets

Astroscale has just launched its first commercial space debris disposal mission to locate and retrieve used satellites and other debris orbiting the earth.

The Japan-based Astroscale Demonstration (ELSA-d) End-of-Life Services Mission launched on March 22 from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was one of the 38 payloads carried into space by a Soyuz rocket as part of the first purely commercial ridesharing for the Russian company GK Launch Services.

The ELSA-d mission will test the new technology developed by Astroscale, which consists of two satellites stacked together: one 385-lb. (175 kilograms) “Servicer” and a 37-lb. (17 kg) “customer”. The servicer is designed to safely remove debris from orbit while the client’s spaceship serves as a piece of debris to be cleaned during the demonstration. Once the two satellites separate, they will have a cosmic game of cat and mouse for the next six months.

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Astroscale Demonstration’s End-of-Life Services (ELSA-d) mission will test a magnetic docking technique to remove space debris from orbit. The “Servicer” satellite uses GPS to locate space debris and then snaps it into place with a magnetic docking plate to carry it towards the Earth’s atmosphere, where it burns. (Image credit: Astroscale)

“I am pleased to confirm that the Astroscale Mission Operations team at the in-orbit maintenance center in Harwell, UK, has successfully contacted our ELSA-d spacecraft and has determined that all of the initial system checks are satisfactory,” said Seita Iizuka, ELSA-d project manager, said in a statement from Astroscale. “I congratulate our team and look forward to entering the first phase of our technical demonstrations.”

Using a series of maneuvers, Astroscale will test the satellite’s ability to snatch debris and move it toward Earth’s atmosphere, where both servicers and debris burn. The servicer is equipped with a magnetic docking plate and GPS technology to estimate the exact position and movement of its target. This debris removal demonstration project is said to be the first of its kind by a commercial satellite operator.

During the test mission, the company will test whether the servicer can acquire the client satellite in three separate demonstrations.

During his first maneuver, the servicer carefully releases the test waste and then quickly collects it. Next, the servicer tries to capture the client as it plunges through space at speeds of up to 29,000 km / h.

Ultimately, Astroscale simulates an actual mission where the servicer has to remotely locate, locate and record the customer. If successful, ELSA-d’s magnetic detection mechanism could be installed on future satellites launched into space so that future servicers can safely remove these spacecraft when they are no longer operational.

“While ELSA-d is leading the way in demonstrating our waste disposal capabilities, it will also drive regulatory developments and drive the business model for end-of-life equipment removal services and active waste removal services,” said Nobu Okada, Founder and CEO of Astroscale. in the statement. “This successful start brings us closer to realizing our vision of ensuring the safe and sustainable development of space for the benefit of future generations.”

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