Astroscale's ELSA-d tackles space junk with successful capture mission

Space is an increasingly crowded place. Dead satellites and other space debris orbit our planet, making it trickier to plan new launches and jeopardizing existing missions. Cleaning up this debris is a big challenge, however, one that private company Astroscale is working to address with its End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d).

ELSA-d launched earlier this year to demonstrate the use of its technologies for space cleanup missions. The spacecraft featured a client spacecraft and a servicer held together by a "mechanical locking mechanism," according to Astroscale. The first phase in this demonstration involved unlocking that mechanism so that ELSA-d magnetic capture system was the only thing holding the demonstration client to the servicer.

In this latest phase, which was announced as a success in recent days, the Astroscale team had the servicer release the demonstration client so that it could be recaptured in space using the magnetic capture system. This accomplishment validated that capture mechanism, paving the way for the mission's remaining five phases.

The next phase of the mission will involve capturing the client spacecraft from a greater distance without tumbling; following that, the same move will be demonstrated, but with tumbling. One more capture demonstration will take place after that, simulating a search for space debris, followed by approach and capture.

With the capture phases out of the way, Astroscale will wrap up this mission with re-orbit and closeout phases. The next capture demonstration is scheduled for "the coming months," according to the company, which may one day after space debris cleanup services for customers.