The American unit of Astroscale Holdings is entering the satellite life-extension market with the purchase of an Israeli company that specializes in developing on-orbit servicing solutions.
Astroscale U.S. has acquired Effective Space Solutions, which develops life-extension solutions for satellites in geostationary orbit, or GEO. In addition to adding ESS’ intellectual property to its portfolio, Astroscale is hiring all of the company’s staff to form Astroscale Israel Ltd., which will remain in that country and serve as Astroscale’s research and development group for geostationary satellite life-extension services.
Astroscale, a global company based in Japan, is best known for its efforts to remove space debris from orbit. The company expects to demonstrate its end-of-life service later this year, which will see an Astroscale space vehicle capture debris and de-orbit it.
But with this purchase the company is scaling up its understanding of — and ambitions for — on-orbit servicing.
“Really, we’ve started thinking about the debris remediation part of the market as a subset of on-orbit services. It’s one thing you can do once you have a satellite up there that can rendezvous and dock with other satellites,” said Ron Lopez, president and managing director of Astroscale U.S. “We’re bringing all of those resources to bear to move into the GEO life-extension business, to complement what we’re doing in [low Earth orbit] LEO on the debris and the situational space awareness side.”
Astroscale claims that with its debris removal efforts in LEO and its new GEO life-extension effort, the company is now the only business solely dedicated to on-orbit servicing across all orbital regimes. Eventually, Astroscale could add satellite refueling, repair, upgrading, towing, salvage, situational space awareness and on-orbit manufacturing to its future portfolio for logistics services.
But for now, the company is focused on providing life-extension services — supplanting the exhausted fuel reserves of a client satellite with the propulsion provided by an attached space vehicle. ESS’ Space Drone platform will be used as the base for Astroscale’s first life-extension vehicle.
Lopez couldn’t give a timeline for when the first life-extension mission would begin, stating that the timeline would be driven by customer demand. He added that he is in talks with potential customers.
Astroscale will face some stiff competition as it enters the still nascent satellite-servicing market. SpaceLogistics, a Northrop Grumman subsidiary, successfully docked its own space vehicle with a commercial GEO satellite in February, marking the beginning of the first-ever commercial satellite life-extension mission.
SpaceLogistics has also made important inroads with the Department of Defense. The company is working with the DoD to study the feasibility of providing life-extension services to four military satellites. And shortly after the firm’s successful docking with a commercial satellite in February, the company announced it will partner with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to field a pair of government-built robotic arms for on-orbit repairs.
Astroscale also sees the DoD as an important customer for any GEO servicing efforts.
“U.S. strategy right now is very heavily focused on space, specifically on building resiliency and achieving greater operational flexibility, which this kind of capability will allow U.S. government customers to do,” Lopez said.
The company does not have any DoD contracts to date, but Lopez said it’s in communication with key U.S. government stakeholders and has presented its solution to DoD representatives. Lopez also sees strong commercial interest in on-orbit servicing, which underpins the company’s business plan and would allow the government to leverage commercial prices.
Ultimately, Lopez believes Astroscale is well-positioned to compete.
“Even though we’re small, we’re nimble and we have a real, meaningful global footprint,” he said.
Nathan Strout was the staff editor at C4ISRNET, where he covered the intelligence community.