Astroscale, the Japanese orbital debris cleanup, and satellite service company, said on July 27 that it would collaborate with rocket manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on the space trash cleanup solutions. The Astroscale-launch provider collaboration is substantial. It could help solve the above problems of rocket upper stages remaining in orbit, which the European Space Agency has pinpointed as the most harmful pieces of orbital debris.
One of ESA’s major concerns is the breakup of rocket bodies caused by exploding batteries or propellant tanks. According to a press statement, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Astroscale will “collaborate on the technical areas essential to develop sustainable space operations.” “For upper phases, first efforts will entail talks and creation of debris removal methods.”
The agreement with MHI, according to Alison Howlett, is to begin negotiations on “how to assist to a viable space with debris clearance as an option.” We’re looking into future opportunities, such as joint technology advancement or operations, and we don’t have any set plans or timelines at the moment.” The development of orbital debris, or human-made items in orbit that are no longer useful, is a concern that is frequently discussed but for which no alternatives have been developed.
Last month, at the G7 Leaders’ Summit, Canada, France, Germany, the United States, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Union pledged to “take action to address the growing dangers of space debris as our planet’s orbit becomes increasingly crowded.” The US government estimates that there are over 23,000 orbital debris greater than 10 centimeters in diameter and over 500,000 particles. Debris can linger in orbit for thousands of years, posing a collision risk to the growing number of latest satellites launched each year.
According to Pentagon space strategy official John Hill, the Pentagon is committed to reducing the development of orbital debris, but there are currently no plans to remove US upper stages. “The reality is that governments, primarily the Soviet Union and the United States, undertaken much of the space processes for the first few decades of space activity, and the original practices did not take into account the sorts of things you have today concerning debris management,” Hill stated.
The Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices (ODMSP) of the United States Government was established in 2001 in response to the increased existence of orbital debris in a close-Earth space environment. The guidelines were last amended in December of this year. Only the Japanese space agency JAXA as well as the European Space Agency ESA have financed missions to remove trash from orbit thus far.