Successful orbital engineering test of magnetic space junk removal technology

Capitalism in space: The Japanese-based company Astroscale has successful completed its first test in orbit of a magnetic capture device designed to someday remove for space junk.

Launched on March 22, ELSA-d (short for “End-of-Life Services by Astroscale demonstration”) brought with it to orbit a 37-pound (17 kilograms) cubesat fitted with a magnetic docking plate. During the experiment on Wednesday (Aug. 25), ground controllers first remotely released a mechanical locking mechanism attaching the cubesat to the main 386-pound (175 kg) removal craft, Astroscale said in a statement. The two satellites were still held together by the magnetic system, which is responsible for capturing the debris.

The cubesat was then released completely and recaptured before floating too far away from the main spacecraft. Astroscale said on Twitter that this maneuver was repeated several times. This short demonstration enabled Astroscale to test and calibrate rendezvous sensors, which enable safe approach and capture of floating objects.

Engineers in the coming weeks plan to do even more challenging tests of ELSA, including a capture attempt where the target is made to tumble like an out-of-control satellite.

Eventually the company hopes to sell its target technology to satellite makers so that its satellites will be able to capture them. It already has a deal with OneWeb to develop this technology for its satellites, whereby one of its clean-up satellites could capture a bunch of defunct OneWeb satellites on one flight and deorbit them safely.

Whether this magnetic capture technique could be used on satellites with metal but no specifically designed target is unclear. If so it would place Astroscale a strong position to gain a large portion of the space junk removal business.

Commercial Japanese company about to test orbital space junk removal

Capitalism in space: The private Japanese company Astroscale has placed in orbit a satellite dubbed ELSA-d to test the use of magnets for capturing and removing space junk from orbit.

ELSA-d was launched March 22nd as part of a Soyuz commercial launch.

The ELSA-d mission will test new technology developed by Astroscale, which consists of two satellites stacked together: a 385-lb. (175 kilograms) “servicer” and a 37-lb. (17 kg) “client.” The servicer is designed to safely remove debris from orbit, while the client spacecraft will serve during the demonstration as a piece of debris to be cleaned up. Once the two satellites separate, they will perform a cosmic game of cat and mouse over the next six months.

…Using a series of maneuvers, Astroscale will test the satellite’s ability to snatch debris and bring it down toward the Earth’s atmosphere, where both servicer and debris will burn up. The servicer is equipped with a magnetic docking plate, as well as GPS technology to estimate the exact position and motion of its target. This debris removal demonstration project is the first of its kind by a commercial satellite operator, according to the statement.

During the trial mission, the company will test whether the servicer can catch the client satellite in three separate demonstrations.

The company’s goal is to convince satellite companies to place its client component on their satellites so that when it comes time to decommission the satellite Astroscale’s servicer can be sent up to remove it.