Innovators at NASA Johnson Space Center have designed an Active Debris Removal Vehicle (ADRV) that can remove large orbital debris from low-Earth orbit (LEO). The ADRV will approach a debris object, assess its characteristics and motion, determine an initial capture trajectory, match its rotation rates, execute a capture maneuver, and control and deorbit the object.

Due to its small form factor, eight ADRVs can be clustered in a single launch vehicle payload. Each vehicle can be assigned to a unique debris target. (Image: NASA)

The ADRV incorporates several NASA inventions including a novel spacecraft control system, debris object characterization system, and capture and release system. These NASA ADRV technologies may also be applied to satellite servicing and orbital adjustments.

The concept yields a single use, lowcost, lightweight, high mass fraction vehicle that enables the specific removal of large orbital debris (1000 - 4000 kg mass, 200 - 2000 km altitude, and 20 98-degree inclination). The ADRV performs rendezvous, approach, and capture of non-cooperative tumbling debris objects, maneuvering of the mated vehicle, and controlled, targeted reposition or deorbit of the mated vehicle.

Due to its small form factor, up to eight ADRVs can be launched in a single payload, enabling high impact orbital debris removal missions within the same inclination group. Three key technologies were developed to enable the ADRV: 1) The spacecraft control system (SCS) is a guidance, navigation, and control system that provides vehicle control during all phases of a mission; 2) The debris object characterization system (DOCS) characterizes movement and capture of non-cooperative targets; and 3) The capture and release system (CARS) allows the vehicle to capture and mate with orbital debris targets.

These technologies can improve the current state-of-the-art capabilities of automated rendezvous and docking technology significantly for debris objects with tumbling rates up to 25 degrees per second. This approach leverages decades of spaceflight experience while automating key mission areas to reduce cost and improve the likelihood of success. It can help mitigate catastrophic collisions with debris involving astronauts, their spacecraft, and other valuable space assets.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact NASA’s Licensing Concierge at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call at 202-358-7432 to initiate licensing discussions. For more information, visit here .