Satellite service company Astroscale is gearing up to launch its ELSA-d mission – the world’s first commercial demonstration of space debris blacklisting, capturing and orbiting in orbit the lowest ground (LEO).
This groundbreaking mission will be launched on Saturday, March 20 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on a Soyuz rocket operated by GK Launch Services and will be run from the UK at the Satellite Applications Catapult at the Harwell Campus, Oxfordshire.
Technologies Astroscale hopes to test over the coming months include non-tumble docking demonstration, docking alignment and settlement, user analysis, separation and commissioning and customer discovery.
The Tokyo-based startup will monitor ELSA-e, or End-of-Life Services, using its own national In-Orbit Service Control Center (IOCC) facility; a facility that the company claims to be the first mission control center dedicated to servicing within an orbit.
“In-orbit servicing and manufacturing capabilities are fundamental to the long-term sustainability of space. Without efficient service and manufacturing in orbit, space risks and under-regulation are overused, harming everyone, ”said John Auburn, managing director of Astroscale UK and co-chair of services and UKspace In-orbit (IOSM) working group manufacturing.
Space waste is a major problem. Since the first satellite was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, it is now estimated that more than 3,600 satellites operate in orbit and this number is expected to rise.
Earlier this year, SpaceX set a new global record for the largest number of satellites sent into space on a single rocket, when it tossed up 143 subscribers in one go; a title formerly owned by the Indian Space Research Association (ISRO), which posted 104 satellites in 2017 on a single increase.
While SpaceX itself had “just” 10 satellites on the fly, company Elon Musk plans to launch thousands of satellites as part of their broadband campaign outside of Starlink.
SpaceX, however, is not alone in their efforts. Many companies, including Amazon’s Kuiper Project, OneWeb and an unnamed Chinese company have plans to launch hundreds if not thousands of satellites themselves to enable worldwide broadband services.
With so many satellites expected, there is a clear market for the removal of unwanted space waste. Astroscale aims to take the lead in end-of-life services and active debris removal, with support from the UK government.
Last week, the UK Space Agency issued space licenses under the UK Outer Space Act for both an ELSA-d server and a consumer spacecraft.
The ‘Servicer’ is equipped with optical sensing instruments and a capture device that connects to a Plate on the ‘Client’ satellite. The server and the client then separate, burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
This is the first time, the UK Space Agency has licensed a company for the In-Orbit / End of Life Service demonstration space mission.
The UK government also awarded a £ 4.2 million grant to Astroscale to develop the company’s IOCC facility.
As a result, the UK hopes the move will attract both local and international in-orbit space industry partners to apply for licenses under UK legislation and regulation.
“Removing dangerous space debris is not only important for the environment but is also a huge commercial opportunity for the UK, with companies such as Astroscale leading the way in showing how we can make space better. safe for everyone, ”said Amanda Solloway, the UK Minister for Science. “I am proud that the UK Government has not only helped to realize this mission but is Europe’s largest investor in helping to clean up space. ”