Japanese entrepreneur Nobu Okada founded Astroscale in 2013 with the sole aim of launching 'space sweepers' Photo: AFP
executive impact

Ridding space of old satellites and debris

By Ivan Couronne

With constellations of thousands of telecommunication mini satellites expected to orbit Earth in the near future, the risk of space-debris collisions will grow. For Nobu Okada, it's an opportunity.

The 46-year-old Japanese entrepreneur founded the start-up Astroscale in Singapore in 2013 with the sole aim of launching "space sweepers." The company -- now based in Tokyo -- has over 170 employees.

A demonstration will take place in 2020 when an Astroscale satellite will capture one of the company's own mini satellites and try and nudge it out of its orbit -- with the goal of pushing it into the atmosphere to burn up.

The Europeans and Americans are developing similar concepts, but the idea of tidying up in space remains an experimental one.

AFP caught up with Nobu Okada at the 35th Space Symposium -- a large meeting of the space industry in the U.S. state of Colorado.

Is there a market for taking down space debris?

"One guy told me, Nobu, there's no market, nobody pays money to remove space debris. And when I heard there's no market, I feel this (is) a good news. If there's no market. There's no competition."

"The density of space debris has reached the critical level where chain collisions can happen at any time in the near future. So, if we do not take any actions, space is not sustainable anymore."

"So, somebody has to clean up the space."

Who is going to pay?

"The future debris will mostly come from constellations. A certain percentage of the satellites will go defunct in space. And they have to be replenished with new satellites to keep the coverage. To do that, they have to remove the oldest satellites to make sure their orbital plane is clean.

"The other business line is that we also have to clean up the debris which are already up there. And these are mostly littered by the governments. We should prioritize which debris are the most critical and have to be removed with high priority, with government money, like rocket upper stages."

"Two years ago, they were just listening, but now they are beginning to take responsibility."

Any clients yet? What will your services cost?

"We have multiple projects with potential customers.

"Before we set up this company, people had no idea how much money, it would cost to remove one debris, because there were no proven technologies. People were thinking 100, 300 or 500 million dollars to remove one object. But our price -- it depends on the situation of the objects in space -- but it is far, far less than that."

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Add more junk in space to get rid of more junk in space. What about her other junk satellites she wanted to launch just to create artificial meteor showers. That's not considered junk?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The answers to the reporter’s questions are very general, vague and elusive.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Bought an app for my phone a few years ago to help keep track of the ISS and the planets. What I did not expect was the overwhelming number of spent rocket bodies that are in orbit. The app does not show the smaller debris in orbit, only the larger ones, but those rocket bodies seem to far outnumber the actual intended satellites up there.

Regarding the many upper stage rocket bodies that are in orbit, seems to me that it is past the time to design them with secondary rockets attached whose only purpose is to assist them to reenter the atmosphere, for the purpose of getting them out of orbit.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Goos for him! I wish him much success!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I apoligize for the typo.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

On phone and unable to correct.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Marie Kondo in space

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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