Abstract Active exploration of the space leads to growth of a near-Earth space pollution. The frequency of the registered collisions of space debris with functional satellites highly increased during last 10 years. As a rule a large space debris can be observed from the Earth and catalogued, then it is possible to avoid collision with the active spacecraft. However every large debris is a potential source of a numerous small debris particles. To reduce debris population in the near Earth space the large debris should be removed from working orbits. The active debris removal technique is considered that intend to use a tethered orbital transfer vehicle, or a space tug attached by a tether to the space debris. This paper focuses on the dynamics of the space debris with flexible appendages. Mathematical model of the system is derived using the Lagrange formalism. Several numerical examples are presented to illustrate the mutual influence of the oscillations of flexible appendages and the oscillations of a tether. It is shown that flexible appendages can have a significant influence on the attitude motion of the space debris and the safety of the transportation process.