The "On Closer Inspection" mission is scheduled to launch during a 14-day window that opens on Feb. 19 from Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand and will deploy the Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) satellite for Astroscale Japan Inc.
According to a news release, the mission is the first phase of an orbital debris removal program, and the mission is designed to test technologies and operations for approaching and monitoring debris, also known as "space junk."
The data received from the mission will then assist in removing the debris to "ensure the sustainable use of space for future generations."
How will it work?
After launch, the ADRAS-J satellite will approach an old rocket stage in Earth’s orbit to observe it, understand how it's behaving and then determine the potential methods for assisting in its deorbit in the future.
The rocket stage being observed is the Japanese H-2A upper stage left in Earth’s orbit after the launch of the GOSAT Earth observation satellite n 2009.
The ADRAS-J satellite will fly around the stage, which is about 36 feet long and 14 feet in diameter, inspecting it with cameras.
According to the news release, the mission is expected to last between three and six months.
It's a mission that needs all the pieces to come together in order for it to be successful. To enable the rendezvous with a "non-cooperative space object" requires a dedicated launch, highly responsive mission planning and "extremely tight margins on orbital parameters."
According to the news release, Rocket Lab only received the final perigee, apogee and inclination from Astroscale 20 days before the launch. That's when targets for different days during the launch window were selected, determining the precise timing of Electron Kick Stage burns to facilitate the orbit required on the day of the launch.
The exact moment of launch won't be decided until the day prior to launch, and will only be given a window of +/- 15 seconds.
"Electron is really the only vehicle capable of delivering such a complex mission on an expedited timeline," said Rocket Lab Founder and CEO Peter Beck. "With a dedicated launch on Electron the Astroscale team have a high degree of control over launch time and deployment parameters, and the Kick Stage delivers critical maneuverability for precise orbital deployment. We’re immensely proud to be working with the Astroscale team in support of a pivotal mission that could have real, positive benefits for managing space sustainability for future generations."
"On Closer Inspection" will be Rocket Lab’s second launch in 2024 and the 44th Electron mission overall.