Rocket Lab launches Japanese satellite ADRAS-J to study space debris

Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle has launched the Japanese ADRAS-J satellite from Astroscale, designed to study space debris. The Astroscale Japan Mission Operations team in Tokyo has successfully established contact with ADRAS-J and is ready to begin work.

The ADRAS-J mission is the world’s first attempt to safely approach, characterize and investigate the condition of real-life large space debris using the Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) procedure. ADRAS-J will examine the upper stage of the Japanese H2A rocket launched in 2009, demonstrate the feasibility of such a rendezvous and proximity operation, and image the H2A to assess its motion and structural condition. The ADRAS-J mission is the first stage for the implementation of missions to service satellites in orbit or to collect large pieces of space debris.

Over the coming days, the ADRAS-J team will continue to test and verify the spacecraft on orbit before beginning rendezvous operations. The H2A rocket body is an unprepared object that does not provide any GPS data, so the exact location and orbital position of the H2A required for the RPO mission are not available. ADRAS-J will use ground-based observations of the object’s approximate orbital position to initially approach it based on this limited information. The next stages of the mission include rendezvous, approach, convergence operations, and departure, and are expected to be completed within the next few months.

Interestingly, inspector satellites that can examine objects in space and even change their orbits have been the nightmare of military space units since the Cold War, when the USSR and the US believed that adversaries could steal their spy satellites along with sensitive information and secret technologies in this way. Now China is suspected of the same.