Astroscale Scheduled to launch in early 2018, the IDEA OSG 1 satellite will be capable of measuring space debris strikes as small as a millimeter. (Photo by Ko Sasaki courtesy of The New York Times)

To advance his company’s mission, Okada returned to many of the same industry conferences as a speaker rather than a guest, creating awareness about the issue in a series of media appearances and YouTube videos from his talks at TEDxTokyo, the Hello Tomorrow Global Summit and other news outlets.

“I focused on building four things: a great engineering team, a proven solution, initial funding and an international framework,” Okada says. “I knew that waste management in space wasn’t sexy enough to convince governments and taxpayers to pay for it, at least not until there was a viable business model.”

So, Okada built one himself. Astroscale, whose slogan is “Space Sweepers,” has secured some $44 million in funding from both public and private venture capital firms and other third-party investors. The company also has raised money through its participation in the Lunar Dream Capsule program sponsored by the Japanese sports-drink company Pocari Sweat.

Specially designed and developed for delivery to the moon with hopes that future generations will visit to retrieve it, the Lunar Dream Capsule is travelling throughout Japan and other countries in Asia to collect handwritten messages that will be laser etched onto titanium plates inside the capsule.

In the meantime, Okada continues to pursue the dream spurred by the handwritten note he received as a teenager at Space Camp.

Astroscale is currently engineering its first mission in early 2018 using a spacecraft called IDEA OSG 1, which will enable the accurate monitoring and positioning of space debris too small for tracking from the ground. The company will then carry out an in-orbit demonstration in 2018-19 with ELSA 1, a chaser satellite that provides spacecraft retrieval service for satellite operators using a unique capturing system.

What’s the secret recipe? As an entrepreneur launching a truly lofty venture, Okada can’t reveal all the details of his company’s technology, so the answer is somewhat sticky — glue.

Working with a Japanese chemical manufacturer, the Astroscale team created an adhesive that will cover strategic parts of ELSA 1 to capture the colliding debris, drag it out of orbit and burn up upon reentry.

“Solving the problem of space debris is more than a business opportunity to me,” Okada says. “It also reconnects me with my childhood passion and helps ensure the safety of future space exploration.”   

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