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It’s not too late to clean up space debris4 min read

April 5, 2021 3 min read


It’s not too late to clean up space debris4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

With space exploration comes an inevitable threat: an environmental disaster. Space debris is a real threat to all the new space exploration devices deployed into Earth’s orbit. This is because a collision could be disastrous for the health of the satellite. But, the story isn’t all bad. Astroscale, a company looking to help clean up space junk, is now offering a solution to this problem.

Some of the space junk that is just floating around in space. Image: The Hindu

Owliver’s Obscure Facts: Astroscale Holdings is a private orbital debris removal company based out of Tokyo, which is developing satellite end-of-life and active debris removal services to help reduce space waste.

What are they going to do?

The Astroscale satellite undergoes testing. Image:Space News

Astroscale uses a very simple technique; it sends a satellite to catch all the junk floating around. The satellite first tracks down the floating debris, then chases it down and catches up with it. Then it uses a magnet, much like the ones we have at home, which attracts the space debris to the satellite. But, this magnet is a lot stronger. The satellite then stores the collected debris in its “belly”.

Won’t their satellites add to the space debris problem?

Artwork: Once the experiments are complete, the duo will de-orbit
An artwork depicting the satellite as it burns upon the atmosphere. Image: BBC

Fortunately, Astroscale has fixed that problem too. Once the satellite has picked up as much debris as it can, it will enter the atmosphere and burn up, just like many meteors do, to make sure that the satellite does not add to the space debris problem.

How long will it take to collect the trash?

Since this is the first demo mission for this type of technology, the mission will only last seven to ten years. It hopes to improve the technology and satellite to last a lot longer.

What is the future like for this type of tech?

The future does seem very bright. Space debris is a real problem, where NASA estimates over 9,000 pieces of defunct space junk floating around. Astroscale hopes to be employed by other private companies, such as SpaceX and Rocket Lab to clean up their mess. Although it doesn’t seem like this will be in the best intentions from a business perspective, this will truly help the future of space and space companies around the world.

SpaceX launches re-flown fairing for the first time and breaks a Falcon 9  booster re-use record | TechCrunch
In a first, SpaceX launches a rocket with a re-used rocket booster. Image: TechCrunch

Although SpaceX and Rocket Lab have both planned to catch rocket boosters, this is only 65% of the rocket. The rest 35% becomes defunct and stays in space, possibly damaging future missions. Astroscale’s technology and idea is really intriguing, and we will follow the mission closely for the most exciting moments to watch!

(All Things Science is a column about science, space and other related topics.)

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