Spacecraft Approaches Metal Object Orbiting Earth, Captures Footage

In a significant step toward addressing the growing issue of space debris, a spacecraft has cautiously approached and photographed a sizable piece of metal circling Earth.

Astroscale, a Japanese satellite technology company, spearheaded this delicate mission using its ADRAS-J satellite. The spacecraft successfully maneuvered to within several hundred meters of an abandoned section of a nonfunctional rocket, demonstrating its capability to observe objects in close proximity safely.

“Pics or it didn’t happen,” the company announced on X (formerly Twitter), unveiling the world’s first image of space debris captured during rendezvous and proximity operations as part of its ADRAS-J mission.

This mission is part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) “Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration” project, aimed at developing effective methods to remove hazardous space junk from Earth’s orbit. Collisions with large objects can spawn thousands of additional fragments, exacerbating the risk of future impacts.

Having accomplished the initial approach, the experimental spacecraft will continue its close monitoring of the rocket, which Japan launched in 2009. Gathering crucial data on its condition and trajectory, the subsequent phase of the mission will employ in-house robotic arm technologies to remove and deorbit the rocket body.

“We chose this target because it represents a sizable piece of space debris, similar in shape to many others on the debris list,” explained Yamamoto Toru, leader of Japan’s commercial removal mission. “Success in this endeavor could pave the way for addressing similarly shaped space debris in the future.”

Space debris poses a significant threat, particularly in low Earth orbit (LEO), where millions of human-made objects clutter the space environment. Pieces of spacecraft, defunct satellites, and even minuscule paint flecks hurtle through LEO, endangering operational spacecraft.

Intentional actions, such as satellite destruction tests, exacerbate the problem. Deliberate events like the 2007 destruction of the Chinese Fengyun-1C satellite and the accidental 2009 collision between American and Russian spacecraft significantly contribute to the accumulation of debris, heightening collision risks.

The International Space Station (ISS) frequently adjusts its orbit to evade potential collisions with speeding debris. However, incidents like Russia’s 2021 satellite destruction test highlight the persistent challenge posed by space debris, necessitating concerted efforts to mitigate its impact on space operations.


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