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Astroscale and Mitsubishi team up to develop debris removal technology

Astroscale and MHI will share technical data and technologies for projects that advance sustainable space operations, including on-orbit servicing.

Astroscale, an orbital debris removal and satellite servicing company based in Japan, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), to cooperate on active debris removal and other projects for improving space environmental protection, marking the first collaboration between Astroscale and a launch services provider.

Astroscale Japan has also been selected by the Government of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) to research and develop robotic hand and arm technologies that can be affixed to spacecraft to perform complex servicing activities in orbit and in lunar environments.

The objectives of the three-year contract, budgeted up to $2.5m for the Japanese fiscal year (April 2020 to March 2021), are to research and develop the technologies related to robotic hands and arms, autonomous control, and interfaces to replace robotic hands.

Commenting on the partnership, Nobu Okada, Founder & CEO of Astroscale, said: “Active debris removal and robotic technologies are paving the way for on-orbit services that will form the infrastructure of the global space economy. Astroscale is leading the on-orbit servicing market and providing options, which have not been available until now, for satellite and launch vehicle operators to reduce risk and increase ROI. I would like to thank Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, and the Astroscale team — through these collaborative efforts between industry and government, we can accelerate actions toward an era of space sustainability, while expanding on-orbit servicing business opportunities.”

Astroscale and MHI will share technical data and technologies for projects that advance sustainable space operations,  including on-orbit servicing. Astroscale said that initial efforts will include discussions and the development of debris removal methods for upper stages.

Takayoshi Koyama, Managing Director of Astroscale Japan, added: “We are very pleased to take action with a leading global launch provider on debris removal and move the industry toward a more sustainable future. In order to secure sustainability in space, we must address both the prevention and remediation of debris. At Astroscale, we are doing both and are dedicated to improving the space environment by leading the development of innovative on-orbit servicing solutions across all orbits.”

The project will also analyse the on-orbit servicing market and standardisation trends, reflect them into the development plan and provide recommendations for standardisation. Robotic technology is fundamental to on-orbit servicing activities and is expected to play a key role in base construction activities on the lunar surface for the Artemis space exploration programme.

On June 13, 2021, the G7 Member nations released a statement confirming orbital debris as one of the biggest global challenges facing the space sector and pledged to commit to the safe and sustainable use of space.