A satellite designed to inspect space junk just made it to orbit

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Astroscale’s ADRAS-J spacecraft, a demonstration satellite that could inform future space junk cleanup efforts, is now in orbit after a successful launch from New Zealand on Sunday. The satellite was sent to space atop an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab. Its mission, which was selected by Japan’s space agency (JAXA) for Phase I of the Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration program, will see ADRAS-J rendezvous with an old Japanese rocket upper stage that’s been in orbit since 2009.

The accumulation of waste in Earth’s orbit from decades of spaceflight is an issue of growing concern, and space agencies around the world are increasingly working to address it, in many cases tapping private companies to develop potential solutions. One of the most effective ways to deal with space junk could be to deorbit it, or move it to a lower altitude so it can burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. ADRAS-J will be the first to target a piece of existing large debris and attempt to safely approach and characterize it, relying on ground-based data to hone in on its position.

Over the next few months, it’ll make its way to the target and eventually try to get close enough to take images and assess its condition to determine if it can be removed. “ADRAS-J is officially on duty and ready to rendezvous with some space debris!” the company tweeted. “Let the new era of space sustainability begin!”

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