Satellites designed to test technologies that could help clean up Earth’s orbit in the future are busy zooming in on simulated debris using on-board sensors. However, an experiment by the Japanese company Astroscale failed to capture the target because its engineers detected “abnormal spacecraft conditions”.
astro scale Plans to commercially offer space cleanup services 2024 at the earliest, in a statement (opens in new tab) The demonstration, part of the ELSA-d (End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration) mission, was a success despite last-minute problems.
“ELSA-d has never been easy, even under ideal circumstances, but our global team has overcome numerous challenges and achieved tremendous success. It will accelerate the already rapid growth of the services market,” said Astroscale’s CEO in a statement.
During the seven-hour orbital maneuver, the 386-pound (175-kg) “Servicer” spacecraft orbits 340 miles (550 kilometers) above the surface. earth, was guided by the ground control team to within 520 feet (159 m) of the 37 lb (17 kg) “client” satellite.Chaser then switched from what engineers called absolute navigation (ground control and GPS sensors) into relative navigation mode, relying on on-board systems to move fully autonomously.
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Seita Iizuka, ELSA-d project manager at Astroscale, said in a statement: “Proving these capabilities will give us and our partners greater confidence in developing debris removal services.”
The handover between absolute and relative navigation systems, followed by autonomous tracking and target approach, is the demonstration’s greatest success, Astroscale said in a statement.
Chaser was expected to eventually capture the client using magnetic systems attached to both spacecraft. However, the operation was eventually stopped. The two spacecraft were then separated for safety reasons, and now he is 1,000 miles (1,700 km) away. Over the next few weeks, ground control teams will investigate the issue that prevented the capture before deciding on their next move.
“The team is analyzing the potential for safe and viable client magnetic recapture,” Astroscale told Space.com in an email. “At this stage we are unable to confirm a timeframe and will make a separate statement whether or not we proceed with the recapture.”
ELSA-d, the first experiment of its kind, Launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome In Kazakhstan in March 2021. The two spacecraft traveled into space together as a stack attached via a magnetic docking system.they were separated during Previous test in August 2021.
Subsequent demonstrations have been plagued by setbacks.a A previous attempt at an autonomous approach was discontinued A “technical anomaly” caused four of the Chaser spacecraft’s eight thrusters to fail in January. , had to run with only half of the available propulsion units.
“This limited the servicer’s ability to perform the originally planned detailed rendezvous operations with the client,” Astroscale said in a statement.
Despite setbacks, Astroscale hopes to be on track to start cleaning up space junk commercially within the next few years. The company last year Signed a contract with OneWeb, a mega-constellation operator Cooperate in the advancement of debris removal technology. Astroscale envisions a service that deorbits multiple spacecraft one by one in a single mission to help maintain a sustainable and safe orbital environment. However, the satellite must be fitted with a magnetic docking plate before launch so that the Chaser spacecraft can catch the satellite later.
Mega-constellations like OneWeb, especially SpaceX’s Starlink, worry many space safety expertsWith the number of satellites in orbit growing rapidly, the risk of orbital collisions is becoming ever higher. A malfunctioning satellite that is no longer in control poses the greatest danger. Removing them immediately after the mission ends helps maintain order in the near-Earth environment.
Experts say that if the situation is left unchecked, the so-called Kessler syndromeAn unstoppable cascade of collisions predicted by NASA physicist Donald Kessler in the late 1970s.
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