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Astroscale preps space debris sweeper for 2019 test

Singapore-based startup readies launch of service to collect old satellites, other junk

Astroscale plans to send into orbit a chaser satellite,right, and a mock debris satellite.

TOKYO -- Astroscale, a Singapore-based startup founded by a Japanese entrepreneur, will test its first satellite for collecting space debris as early as the first half of 2019, with the aim of starting a cleanup service the following year.

Space debris is man-made waste such as old satellites and detached rocket parts. Roughly 20,000 such objects larger than 10cm in diameter have already been identified, with the quantity having doubled over the last 20 years. Ultrasmall satellites, an emerging technology poised to take off in the coming years, could make this orbiting cloud of junk an even bigger problem.

For its upcoming test mission, Astroscale will send into orbit a chaser satellite as well as a mock debris satellite. The chaser will release the target, locate it, and magnetically attract and secure it. Finally, they will enter the earth's atmosphere and burn up together.

The practice mission will last from six months to a year. Astroscale aims to offer the cleanup service to companies that are planning ultrasmall-satellite launches.


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