Rocket Lab Electron launches Astroscale inspection spacecraft

Rocket Lab Electron launches Astroscale inspection spacecraft

An Astroscale spacecraft launched by a Rocket Lab Electron will meet and check a spent upper stage in low Earth orbit before it is removed.

On February 18, at 9:52 a.m. Eastern, the Electron took off from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. Following the Jan. 31 launch of four satellites for the space situational awareness company NorthStar Earth and Space, this was the company’s second launch of the year.

The Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) satellite was the only payload launched on this mission. 64 minutes after takeoff, the 150 kilogram satellite was sent into an orbit of about 600 kilometers.

Astroscale said in a statement that it contacted ADRAS-J after the deployment. “This milestone signals the start of our mission, and we are excited to survey and characterize a real piece of debris through our innovative rendezvous and proximity operations capabilities.” Astroscale said Eijiro Shin, ADRAS-J project manager.

ADRAS-J was developed by Astroscale as the first phase of the Japanese space agency JAXA’s Commercial Debris Removal Demonstration (CRD2) program. ADRAS-J’s goal is to approach and inspect the upper stage of the 11-meter-long, 4-meter-diameter H-2A rocket that launched the Earth observation satellite GOSAT in 2009. A future second phase of the CRD2 program will send the spacecraft to an upper stage and attempt to remove it from orbit.

During a panel discussion at the Space Debris Conference hosted by the Saudi Space Agency on February 12, Mike Lindsay, chief technical officer of Astroscale, stated, “This will be, to my knowledge, the first mission that will approach and rendezvous with an actual piece of space debris.” “What we’re going to do is assess the state of this space debris, see how it’s moving, how it’s tumbling, what is its condition, really trying to determine if it’s safe to approach with a follow-on mission.”

The mission has several milestones to demonstrate rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO), according to a September briefing from Astroscale officials. These include the mission’s ability to approach and operate safely around the upper stage while gathering data that will help a future mission grapple and deorbit it.

“The key to the mission is demonstrating the most challenging aspects of RPO technologies,” Astroscale Chief Engineer Gene Fujii said in a briefing. He said Astroscale expects the ADRAS-J mission to last three to six months.

ADRAS-J completed last fall and was supposed to launch in November, but the September Electron launch failure caused a postponement. Rocket Lab contended that the mission could only be completed by a dedicated launch, such as Electron, which would have placed the spacecraft into a precise orbit near the H-2A upper stage. Astroscale stated at the time that it did not intend to transfer launch providers as a result of the delay.

“Our next mission is an orbital rendezvous mission,” Sandy Tilty, Rocket Lab’s director of global commercial launch services, said during a panel discussion at the SmallSat Symposium in February. 7.Related to the future release of ADRAS-J. “There is no way you could do this on a rideshare.”

ADRAS-J is Astroscale’s second mission, following the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale (ELSA-d) demonstration mission launched in 2021. The situation was further complicated by the failure of four of the Servicer spacecraft’s eight engines.

“We definitely learned a lot from ELSA-d,” Fujii said at a press conference in September. This includes not only hardware design and software development, but also operations that combine autonomous and ground controller-led operations. “To figure how to balance between autonomy and ground interactions for safety was a really tricky thing to put together,”

Astroscale he announced in January. It announced on the 24th that it had completed mission operations for the ELSA-d servicer and customer spacecraft after the servicer performed maneuvers to lower the orbit. The servicer spacecraft will re-enter within about three and a half years, while the customer spacecraft is expected to deorbit within five years due to a lack of propulsion, the company said.

Topics #ADRAS-J #Astroscale inspection spacecraft #Complex 1 #Rocket Lab Electron

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