Scientists are preparing to launch a new satellite capable of cleaning space debris using magnets. With more space launches happening in recent years, there’s an even greater risk of a potentially deadly collision. Japanese orbital clean-up company Astroscale may have the solution.
The company is set to launch the End-Of-Life demonstration mission on 20th March. The satellite will piggy-back on the Russian Soyuz rocket. The package includes a smaller “client” satellite and a larger “servicer” satellite, also called a “chaser” satellite. The small satellite has a magnetic plate that attracts the chaser and connects the two together.
The stacked spacecraft will perform three tests in orbit. Each test involves releasing the servicer satellite, which then recaptures the client satellite. Things start with a simple test. The client satellite drifts a short distance away and is recaptured. The second test is a little tougher. The service satellite will send the client flying before flying after it and grabbing it.
If these two tests go as expected, then the chaser satellite will launch the client satellite a few hundred meters before catching back up to it and connecting together. These tests will run automatically with minimal human input once the ball – or satellite, as the case may be – gets rolling.
No matter how the tests go, the satellites are set to burn up in the atmosphere once the tests are over.
Space debris is becoming such a concern that many countries require firms launching satellites to have a way to bring them back to Earth if they fail or run out of fuel. This new cleaning satellite could make an excellent contingency plan to collect space junk. Astroscale are working on bigger and better models that could drag several satellites out of orbit at once.