Singaporean New Space company Astroscale has announced that it will open a National In-Orbit Servicing Control Facility in Harwell, UK. Astroscale is among the most high-profile company looking to remove space debris from orbit.
This UK facility, which will open at the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell, Oxfordshire, will support advanced robotics activities in space, specifically enabling the provision of a commercial service for deorbiting small satellites.
The new facility will initially control Astroscale’s ELSA-d mission, the first project to demonstrate the core rendezvous, capture and de-orbit technologies used by the ELSA (End-of-Life Service by Astroscale) programme. ELSA-d is comprised of two satellites, the ‘Chaser’ and the ‘Target.’ The ‘Chaser’ is equipped with optical sensing instruments and a capture mechanism which will attach to a Docking Plate on the ‘Target’ satellite. The Chaser and Target will then de-orbit together, burning up as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Astroscale is committed to contributing to space debris removal to secure orbital sustainability for future generations and the In-Orbit Servicing Control Facility is a key component of our mission,” said Nobu Okada, founder and CEO of Astroscale. “We are excited to move forward on this innovative partnership with the Catapult. Once developed, the servicing facility will support not only space debris removal, but in-orbit satellite servicing and other autonomous robotic applications in orbit.”
Over 4,500 satellites orbit the Earth, providing critical services including global communication and positioning capabilities. Upwards of 15,000 satellites are expected to be launched over the next 10 years, including into orbits that are already highly populated. There are growing concerns that a collision between uncontrolled space debris and an active satellite could cause global commercial and security risks and lead to a cascading debris effect making these orbits unsustainable. This issue was highlighted in August 2017 when the governments of Japan and the UK signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen collaboration on mitigating space debris.
“The new facility will provide a national capability, enabling UK companies to unlock opportunities in space debris removal, in-orbit satellite servicing and other autonomous robotic applications,” added Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult. “The partnership with Astroscale is the beginning of an exciting opportunity to deliver a scalable, tailored and re-usable facility to meet the complex demands of advanced satellite constellations, and part of a national network of operations facilities. Our ultimate ambition is to make this innovative facility available for companies around the UK to access.”
Dr. Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair at Innovate UK, said: “This significant facility led by Astrocale, building on the Satellite Applications Catapult’s world-class capabilities, will be a crucial investment for the UK’s space and satellite industry.”
“This is exactly the type of industry-led collaboration to boost jobs and growth that the Robots for a Safer World Industrial Strategy Challenge is aiming to achieve,” Campbell concluded.
As part of the operational system, the new Centre will use highly advanced algorithms developed from state-of-the-art European Space Agency (ESA) software and technologies used in the recent pioneering Rosetta mission. Contributions such as these will enable Harwell to be a world-leading facility enabling industry to capture the high potential market of in-orbit satellite servicing.
Astroscale will receive a £4 million grant from the UK Government to help establish this facility. The grant has been awarded through the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which supports innovative businesses that address important industrial and societal challenges.
Founded in 2013, Astroscale seeks to develop solutions for satellite end-of-life and active debris removal services to mitigate the growing and hazardous buildup of debris in space. The company is headquartered in Singapore, with a research and development facility in Tokyo and an Operations Centre in Harwell (UK).
The Satellite Applications Catapult is one of 10 Catapults established by Innovate UK, aiming to transform the UK’s capability for innovation in specific areas and help drive future economic growth. The Satellite Applications Catapult helps organisations make use of, and benefit from, satellite technologies, and brings together multi-disciplinary teams to generate ideas and solutions in an open innovation environment.