A demonstration mission to test new technology developed by the company Astroscale to clean up space debris is set to launch in the early hours of Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
A Soyuz 2 rocket will launch a 175-kilogram spacecraft with a satellite attached into space. The spacecraft and the 17-kilogram satellite — the debris to be cleaned up — will separate and then perform a high-stakes game of cat and mouse over the next few months.
Astroscale will test the spacecraft’s ability to snatch a satellite and bring it down toward the Earth’s atmosphere, where it will burn up. It will do this in a series of different maneuvers, with the mission expected to end in September or October of this year.
As part of the mission, the company will test whether the spacecraft can catch and dock with the satellite as it tumbles through space at up to 17,500 miles per hour — several times faster than the speed of a bullet.
“Now is the time to take the threat of debris seriously by committing to debris removal programs and preparing satellites for future removal at their end of life,” said John Auburn, managing director of Astroscale UK and group chief commercial officer.
“Avoiding catastrophic collisions will help to protect the space ecosystem and ensure all orbits can continue to thrive sustainably for generations to come.”
Astroscale is headquartered in Japan but the mission is being controlled from the United Kingdom.
Nets, harpoons and robotic arms
Other space agencies, institutions and companies are also working on technology to remove space junk.
In fact, the report said, the bits of space junk that are most dangerous to spacecraft and satellites are often the smallest because they are too small to be detected, and operators aren’t able to maneuver to avoid them.