Childhood Dreams Of Space Realized! Space Junk Problem Solved!

Mitsunobu Okada is a former government official and internet entrepreneur who has revived his childhood passion of space by founding a new company, Astroscale. He went to United States Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville as a teen in 1987, and even chose to attend business school at Purdue University, the alma mater of his hero, Neil Armstrong.

(Vacuum test of Astroscale’s IDEA OSG 1)

Mitsunobu Okada, aspires to be more than an ordinary garbageman. Schoolroom pictures of the planets decorate the door to the meeting room. Satellite mock-ups occupy a corner. Mr. Okada greets guests in a dark blue T-shirt emblazoned with his company’s slogan: Space Sweepers.

Mr. Okada is an entrepreneur with a vision of creating the first trash collection company dedicated to cleaning up some of humanity’s hardest-to-reach rubbish: the spent rocket stages, inert satellites and other debris that have been collecting above Earth since Sputnik ushered in the space age. He launched Astroscale three years ago in the belief that national space agencies were dragging their feet in facing the problem, which could be tackled more quickly by a small private company motivated by profit.

“Let’s face it, waste management isn’t sexy enough for a space agency to convince taxpayers to allocate money,” said Mr. Okada, 43, who put Astroscale’s headquarters in start-up-friendly Singapore but is building its spacecraft in his native Japan, where he found more engineers. “My breakthrough is figuring out how to make this into a business.”

I wonder if Mr. Okada is familiar with Planetes, an anime series published by Makoto Yakimura in Japan starting in 1999. The series follows a team of debris cleaners who clear space junk from flight paths.

Planetes cover art

As far as I know, the earliest sf treatment of the idea of orbital debris clearance is in the 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise; Arthur C. Clarke uses Operation Cleanup to make sure that low earth orbit is clear of space junk for the newly constructed space elevator.

Is it possible to found a business on space junk? Mr. Okado is not the first - read about Making A Living From Space Junk, which describes space junk businesses in Russia.

Via NYTimes.

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