Astroscale announces world’s first approach and inspection of space debris

Orbital debris removal company Astroscale has announced the ADRAS – J mission, which will conduct a close approach, orbit and inspection of a piece of space debris.


ADRAS – J (Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan) will be the world’s first attempt to safely approach and inspect a non-controlled, non-trackable piece of an H-IIA rocket through rendezvous proximity operations (RPO) without docking it.

A press conference on September 28 outlined the first phase of the mission, and announced the later second phase that will involve docking to the client and de-orbiting the debris.

The mission is the first phase of a larger program at JAXA, namely the Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration project (CRD2).

The November 2023 launch of ADRAS – J on board a Rocket Lab Electron rocket is on hold following Rocket Lab’s recent mission failure; subsequent launches have been paused while an investigation takes place.

Astroscale COO, Chris Blackerby, hopes that this mission will be the catalyst for further orbit-maintenance.

“Orbit-servicing can be built into space architecture, including spacecraft servicing, repairs, refurbishments and recycling,” he said. “This will enhance spacecrafts, extend their lifetimes and ensure a safe space environment.”

The ADRAS – J spacecraft is approximately 150kg, including green monopropellant fuel. It has eight diagonal thrusters for precise relative position control and four straight thrusters for efficient high-thrust manoeuvres, as well as two articulating two-panel solar arrays.

The inspection mission will be controlled by onboard autonomous systems, alongside ground operations to ensure maximum safety. A custom rendezvous payload sensor suite will support this control, using multiple visible and infrared cameras, laser rangefinders, LED lighting, and a custom processing unit.

The Kessler Syndrome theory suggests that if the amount of space debris in Low Earth Orbit reaches a certain level, it will trigger a cascade effect in which debris will constantly be colliding and thus multiplying.

Asked about the threat, Mike Lyndsey, CTO, said: “This is something that needs solving, it’s not just a theory. With missions like this, we hope, for the first time, to better understand, manage and mediate our space environment.”