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Technology

Startup Astroscale partners with JAXA to tidy up outer space

Singapore venture, Japan space agency to study technology for plucking debris

Astroscale CEO Nobu Okada, second from left, announced the startup's successful funding in July.

TOKYO -- Space startup Astroscale will launch joint studies with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, with the aim of quickly developing technologies for removing space debris.

The Singapore-based venture, which specializes in space-debris removal technology, will analyze data from its space debris collection satellite along with JAXA.

Space debris, such as rocket fragments, can cause significant problems -- such as disrupting communications signals and GPS -- if it collides with satellites.

The two entities are expected to announce the signing of a contract for the project on Tuesday.

Astroscale plans to launch as early as 2019 an experimental satellite that uses magnetic force to collect space debris. Astroscale and JAXA will jointly analyze images sent from the satellite, with the Japanese agency providing research equipment and know-how.

Space debris consist mostly of used satellites and parts from rockets. There are an estimated 750,000 or more pieces of space debris measuring at least 1cm in diameter floating in space.

Currently, there are no methods of efficiently removing this debris, which could hinder the booming space industry.

Astroscale and JAXA hope their studies will expedite development of the much needed technology.

Astroscale plans to produce space debris collection satellites in large numbers in the future, launching them on behalf of other countries and entities.

JAXA sent its Kounotori cargo transport vehicle into space from late January to early February to try and pick debris, but the mission eventually failed. Since the beginning of the current fiscal year in April, the agency has been expanding its system for monitoring space debris, setting up observation radar and performing other related activities.

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