Astroscale has conducted the first major demonstration of technology for capturing and removing objects in orbit by launching and afterward recapturing a small satellite. The business stated on August 25 that the End-of-Life Services by the Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) spacecraft had successfully completed an assessment earlier that day. The main “servicer” spacecraft launched a small client spacecraft and subsequently recaptured it utilizing a magnetic mechanism. Since the debut of ELSA-d in March, this was the first instance the client had dissociated from the servicer.
In an interview at the 36th Space Symposium, chief operating officer (COO) of Astroscale, Chris Blackerby, said, “It was the first move, but for us, it was enormous.” According to him, the test was brief, with client moving a few millimetres barely before the servicer discharged its thrusters and reunited with the client. The entire test took a few seconds.
However, the assessment was long enough to verify critical technologies that would be used in subsequent testing. “We were able to put the cameras, visuals, software, and, most critically, the capture system to the test,” said Blackerby. In a statement, Nobu Okada, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Astroscale, said, “This has been a tremendous first step in testing all the necessary technologies for proximity and rendezvous operations and capture in space.” “We are happy to have demonstrated our magnetic capture capabilities, and we are looking forward to furthering on-orbit servicing with ELSA-d.”
If this test is successful, the company will move on to more ambitious testing in the future. The servicer will conduct inspections on the client spacecraft as well as capture the client while it falls. The servicer and client will deorbit at the end of the test program. These tests, according to Blackerby, will take place over the following few months.
Astroscale is working on a number of projects to create technology for servicing satellites and removing debris, including ELSA-d. On a mission to examine an upper stage from the Japanese launch, the firm is collaborating with JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
Like Mission Extension Vehicle of Northrop Grumman, the business is building a servicer spacecraft named Life Extension In-Orbit that will dock with geostationary spacecraft and assume station-keeping and attitude control. The work on life extension is being conducted in Astroscale’s US office, which launched in 2019 April and now employs 30 to 35 employees.
Astroscale is working on ELSA-m, a next-generation model of the ELSA spacecraft, according to Blackerby. The spacecraft, which is being created in the company’s UK facility, will capture many pieces of debris.
The ELSA-d demonstration comes as the public becomes more aware of and concerned about orbital debris and the hazard it presents to functioning spacecraft. Both government and industry representatives have stressed the growing relevance of space sustainability during presentations at the Space Symposium.