Rocket stage close-up: Japanese satellite makes historic rendezvous with space debris

Astroscale has published new photos and videos taken by its ADRAS-J satellite. They show the spent upper stage of the Japanese H-2A rocket.

The spent stage of an H2-A rocket, photographed from a distance of 50 meters. Source: Astroscale

The ADRAS-J satellite was built by Astroscale on behalf of JAXA. It was launched into orbit in February 2024. The main task of the 150-kilogram vehicle is to demonstrate the possibility of removing large fragments of space debris from orbit. 

The upper stage of the H-2A rocket, orbiting since 2009, was chosen as the object for the demonstration. Its length is 11 meters, diameter is 4 meters, and mass is about 3 tons. 

After launch, ADRAS-J began maneuvering toward the stage’s orbit using GPS and ground observations. By April 9, the satellite had detected the target with its on-board camera and then began the approach phase. It was carried out using an infrared camera and navigation algorithms that estimate distance by comparing images to a model. By April 17, ADRAS-J came within a few hundred meters of the stage and photographed it.

In the next phase, the satellite continued its approach. By May, it approached the stage at a distance of only 50 meters, after which it took a second survey, maintaining a fixed position relative to it. No other vehicle has ever performed such operations in orbit with space debris.

The data collected by ADRAS-J, will be used to prepare the second phase of the program. During it, a spacecraft will be sent to the stage to attempt to deorbit it.

According to