Astroscale Japan Awarded Grant of up to U.S. $80 Million by Government of Japan To Inspect a Large Defunct Satellite in Orbit

Astroscale Japan, a subsidiary of Astroscale Holdings, on 3rd October, announced it has been selected by the Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for its Small and Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to develop an on-orbit inspection demonstration mission that will image and diagnose a large, defunct satellite in space.

The MEXT-funded project is divided into three phases, and Astroscale Japan will receive up to JPY 2.69 billion (approximately U.S. $18 million) for Phase 1, and up to JPY 12 billion (approximately U.S. $80 million) in total for all three phases. Mission development will begin this month with a maximum term of up to March 2028.

The SBIR program was established to promote research and development for Japanese startups and organizations engaged in advancing innovative technologies, and to facilitate the smooth implementation of results through government support. The call for application was announced in July 2023, and Astroscale Japan was selected in the space category for its “Development and Demonstration of Technologies and Systems for Removing Satellites and Other Objects from Orbit” project under the “Development and Demonstration of Technologies Required for Space Debris Reduction” theme.

Astroscale Japan Awarded Grant of up to U.S. $80 Million by Government of Japan to Inspect a Large Defunct Satellite in Orbit - Astroscale
© Astroscale

The MEXT-funded mission will further advance Astroscale’s heritage Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) capabilities, in addition to inspection and characterization capabilities for a diverse range of active spacecraft and large debris objects in space. Astrosale Japan will launch a similar mission later this year that will inspect and characterize a spent upper stage rocket body. Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) is the world’s first attempt to safely approach, characterize and survey the state of an existing piece of large debris through RPO. During this mission, ADRAS-J is designed to rendezvous with a Japanese upper stage, demonstrate proximity operations, and gather images to assess the rocket body’s condition, including spin rate, spin axis and condition of the structure.

A key challenge of missions is that unprepared objects, such as spent upper stages and defunct satellites, do not provide any GPS data, meaning the precise location and orbital position needed for an RPO mission is not available. Once deployed to a precise orbit, Astroscale’s servicer spacecraft will first use ground-based observation data of the client’s approximate orbital position to approach the client from longer distance, then switch over to its own sensors for a safe close approach and inspection of the client. These missions will demonstrate the most challenging RPO capabilities necessary for on-orbit services, including debris removal.