Satellite launch to clean up Earth’s polluted orbit

The world’s first commercial space debris removal satellite has been put into orbit, Japanese space company Astroscale announced on Tuesday.

The satellite, End-of-Life Services by Astroscale Demonstration (ELSA-d), will serve as a proof of concept for space cleanup missions to reduce the amount of dangerous space debris littering Earth’s orbit. Astroscale’s spacecraft will find and magnetically attach itself to broken and abandoned satellites, inspect them and in future operations and remove debris from orbit. According to Astroscale, the satellite sweeper will be able to dock both stable and overturned debris. If the demonstration is successful, ELSA-d technologies could soon be used to clean up Earth’s backyard.

“Our journey to this point has been long, challenging and rewarding; now begins a pioneering journey for ELSA-d itself, ”said Nobu Okada, founder and CEO of Astroscale. “A new era of space sustainability begins with this shipment, and seeing ELSA-d leave our headquarters in Tokyo was a powerful moment.”

ELSA-d was launched on Monday from Kazakhstan on a Soyuz 2.1a rocket by GK Launch Services along with 37 other payloads. Astroscale confirmed on Twitter a successful launch in orbit, transfer to mission operations in the UK and deployment of its solar array. Each step of the operation is a mechanical test of the satellite, and even a failure could result in a catastrophe for the mission. The Israelis remember the Beresheet probe and how each step of its mission was monitored with great anticipation before failing on its final approach to the moon.

According to an Astroscale representative, it has attempted a previous mission since its founding in 2013, but failed to reach orbit due to a failure of its launch service rocket. This is their first successful launch and represents a major step in fulfilling the mission statement of the space launch “to ensure the safe and sustainable development of space for the benefit of future generations.”
Space debris has become a growing problem as the Earth’s orbit has become more populated. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists satellite database, there are 3,372 operational satellites in orbit and, according to NASA, thousands of traceable pieces of junk, including discarded thrusters, abandoned satellites and pieces that have fallen from spacecraft.
Alien trash is a danger to the thousands of operating satellites and manned space missions. Although boats are protected from impacts, debris can still cause significant damage. In 2009, the first major satellite collision between a missing Russian satellite and a functioning American satellite destroyed both objects.
According to an article by NASA’s Donald Kessler, as the number of satellites and junk increases, the probability of collisions will also increase. Furthermore, the collisions could result in a cascading effect where they lead to an expanding series of collisions, known as the “Kessler Effect.” This would ultimately result in the formation of an artificial asteroid belt. Massive satellite destruction would have dire ramifications on a planet that relies on GPS and other modern space conveniences.

Astroscale and other space startups seek to avoid creating an impenetrable and insecure space environment.

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