Space junk could be salvaged by companies with funding from UK Space Agency

Space cleaners get their cosmic claws on extra funding

Two companies based at Harwell are working to clear up growing amounts of space junk, by capturing dead satellites and destroying them have received a £4 million boost from the UK Space Agency.

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Harwell, UK Monday 26 September, 2022 – Astroscale Ltd., the UK and European subsidiary of Astroscale Holdings Inc. (“Astroscale”), has received a £1.7 million funding boost from the UK Space Agency to continue developing its technology and capability to remove defunct satellites from Low Earth Orbit. This latest mission phase of The Cleaning Outer Space Mission through Innovative Capture (COSMIC) will harness Astroscale’s Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) and robotic debris capture capabilities to remove two defunct British satellites currently orbiting Earth by 2026.

“As our reliance on space technologies increases rapidly and the UK becomes a global hub of satellite design, manufacturing and launch, we are committed to leading efforts to make space more sustainable,” said Dr. Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency. “With 1,700 satellites launched last year alone, the need to safeguard the space environment for the benefit of everyone on Earth has never been more pressing. By catalysing investment, backing innovative new technologies and supporting a national mission to remove space debris, we can keep space open for future generations and protect the important satellite services that modern life depends on.”

Astroscale has selected a small number of potential UK satellites currently in congested orbit to capture and remove, two of which will be identified for removal during this latest Phase B of the COSMIC mission. Further space situational awareness data will inform this final selection.

“We’re delighted to be building an in-orbit servicing economy in the UK, which will help us to deliver the UK government’s ambitious plans to develop a sustainable space environment that will support the many essential services that space enables for our society,” said Nick Shave, Managing Director of Astroscale Ltd. “Astroscale’s COSMIC UK Active Debris Removal Mission Phase B programme will define an efficient, national robotic capture capability to safely remove two defunct UK-registered satellites in Low Earth Orbit. With our proven space mission heritage, and strong industrial partnerships across the breadth of the UK, we can make in-orbit debris removal part of routine satellite operations by 2030.”

The COSMIC mission will be developed in collaboration with 10 UK-based partner companies in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland including: MDA UK, Thales Alenia Space UK, Nammo, GMV-NSL, NORSS, Goonhilly, Satellite Applications Catapult, Willis Towers Watson, and other advisory and industrial partners.

“Astroscale is pleased to be able to continue our commercial service developments through the COSMIC mission,” said Dr. Jason Forshaw, Head of Future Business Europe for Astroscale. “We will create new capability, minimise development costs and bring excellent value for money to the UK Space Agency and the taxpayer. COSMIC will leverage the ELSA-M supply chain, which is spread over the breadth of the UK, supporting the levelling-up agenda. We look forward to working with our 10 selected partners, advisors and suppliers, all of whom are world leaders in spacecraft mission technology, payload development, and specialist support services.”

Astroscale’s team combines extensive systems engineering, Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC), mission operations and ground segment capability. The company is partnered with MDA, renowned robotics and satellite systems pioneers, to harness their expertise on capture robotics including robotic operations experience.

“MDA is proud to be working with Astroscale and the UK Space Agency on this important project to assess, study and ultimately develop solutions to protect and preserve the space environment,” said Anita Bernie, Managing Director MDA UK. “As we explore and expand space further than we ever have before, it is our responsibility to ensure that we do so safely and sustainability.”

Industrial partner Thales Alenia Space, leader in space propulsion in the UK, will focus on the propulsion system of the Astroscale mission study and on-orbit refurbishment aspects such as refuelling; they will also support the assembly, integration and verification of the main satellite servicer spacecraft.

“Thales Alenia Space is extremely proud to contribute to this important UK led Mission, working towards a more responsible use of space for everyone,” said Andrew Stanniland, CEO of Thales Alenia Space in the UK.

Astroscale most recently proved their magnetic capture and RPO capability during the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission in 2021-2022. During this mission, the team performed a series of complex manoeuvres to align, release and capture a demonstration satellite with a servicer spacecraft using relative navigation and on-board systems.

The COSMIC debris removal servicer will be a technological evolution of Astroscale’s Sunrise programme End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-Multi-client (ELSA-M) servicer – a commercial partnership together with the European and UK Space Agencies and OneWeb, the global satellite operator. The first ELSA-M debris removal space servicer will be launched ahead of the UK’s Active Debris Removal mission in 2024.

“The UK ADR mission provides an opportunity for Astroscale to harness our technological innovations, rapidly expanding UK capability, and unwavering commitment to develop a world-class debris removal service,” said Nobu Okada, CEO and Founder of Astroscale.