April 17, 2024

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Rocket Lab launches a satellite into space to investigate the removal of space debris

Rocket Lab launches a satellite into space to investigate the removal of space debris

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Rocket Lab, the world leader in small satellite launches, launched its 44th Electron rocket on February 19, 2024. During this mission, the ADRAS-J satellite was successfully launched, which will approach and inspect the stage of an old Japanese rocket as part of a commercial debris removal demonstration program Of the Japanese Space Agency JAXA. The mission, called “On Closer Inspection,” was launched from Pad B at Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand.

Launched by Astroscale-Japan, the Electron Active Debris Removal Satellite (ADRAS-J) is a satellite designed to test technologies and processes for accessing and observing in-orbit objects, also known as space debris. The mission is the first stage in evaluating the possibility of satellites meeting objects in orbit in the future and helping to remove these objects from Earth’s orbit, in support of the sustainability of space for future generations.

After the successful launch of the Electron satellite, the 150-kilogram ADRAS-J satellite will now approach an old decommissioned rocket stage in orbit to closely monitor it, understand how it behaves and determine possible ways to keep it in orbit in the future with assistance. The rocket stage that will be monitored is the Japanese H-2A upper stage that was left in low Earth orbit after the launch of the GOSAT Earth observation satellite in 2009. ADRAS-J will fly around the 11-meter-long, four-meter-wide moon. The stage is checked with cameras and sensors. The entire Astroscale mission will take three to six months.

“Congratulations to the Astroscale team on this historic mission that paves the way for new and innovative ways to reduce orbital debris and ensure safe access to space,” said Peter Beck, founder and CEO of Rocket Lab. “It is a great honor to provide a dedicated launch service and enable the kind of precise orbital maneuvers required for an advanced mission like this.”

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To enable the ADRAS-J satellite to rendezvous with the decommissioned H-2A upper stage in orbit, Rocket Lab had to design a mission with strict launch timing and precise deployment parameters in Earth orbit. Rocket Lab did not receive the final perigee, apogee and declination from Astroscale until 20 days before launch, parameters that are typically set several months before launch. Only then can the argument of perigee targets be selected for different days within the launch window, and the e-kick stage burn timed to create the unique elliptical orbit required depending on the launch date. The mission required extremely precise orbital insertion with smaller margins than most standard missions. The exact T-0 can only be determined the day before launch and the required LTAN accuracy is only +/- 15 seconds. This demonstrates Rocket Lab's ability to provide advanced and responsive guidance, navigation and control analysis.

“Today’s successful launch of ADRAS-J represents another milestone in our efforts to grow the on-orbit services sector while creating a sustainable space environment,” said Nobuo Okada, founder and CEO of Astroscale. “We are grateful to partner with Rocket Lab, whose expertise in private launch services was essential to launching this groundbreaking mission.”

source: Rocket laboratory