Rocket Lab and JAXA team to launch space debris removal mission

Private aerospace company Rocket Lab has announced plans to launch a space debris removal demonstration mission on behalf of Japan's space agency JAXA. The launch will involve Rocket Lab's Electron rocket and Astroscale Japan's Active Debris Removal satellite. JAXA selected the technology demonstration as part of its first phase Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration Project.

Space debris is a growing problem, threatening the safety and success of future space missions. A number of technologies are being developed to deal with this problem, including satellite servicing tech that can repair and upgrade satellites while in orbit. For instances where hardware is no longer needed, debris removal tech can be used to knock it into the atmosphere where it'll burn up.

The Astroscale Japan satellite is nicknamed ADRAS-J and it'll be sent into orbit in 2023 by Rocket Lab's Electron Kick Stage. Once in orbit, the ADRAS-J satellite will find a sample of orbital debris — in this case, a rocket's upper stage — and send back data from observations of the space junk.

That is Phase I of JAXA's larger Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration Project (CRD2). A second phase will take place at a later date that demonstrates actually removing the space debris from orbit, presenting yet another potential way to remove unneeded junk from orbit around our planet.

The Phase I demonstration mission is scheduled to take place in 2023 from Rocket Lab's Launch Complex 1. Rocket Lab is one of a growing number of private aerospace companies offering commercial launch services for both government and private space missions.