We are placing a lot of satellites in the low earth orbit (LEO). More will be deployed in the coming decade. All satellites have a certain lifespan. So, what happens when they die?
“ For all missions we will provide an end-to-end service, addressing mission licensing, spectrum acquisition, insurance and operations for space debris removal. “
Nobu Okada, Astroscale’s Founder & CEO
Some satellites have been outfitted with the ability to de-orbit and disintegrate into the Earth’s atmosphere, but others do not. Japan along with the U.K. Space Agency and the European Space Agency has devised a safe way to manage those that do not. The organization is called Astroscale. Astroscale was founded in 2013 and their units can capture and deorbit the decommissioned satellites safely.
Below are the Mission and Vision for Astroscale. Taken from https://astroscale.com/
“Develop innovative technologies, advance business cases, and inform international policies that reduce orbital debris and support long-term, sustainable use of space. “
“Safe and sustainable development of space for the benefit of future generations.”
The Astroscale ELSA-D was repeatedly tested back in 2021. The magnetic satellite capture feature was spot on. It was deemed a success originally, but a defect was detected later on and operations were suspended.
According to https://www.space.com/space-junk-astroscale-elsa-m-spacecraft-video there are over two thousand defunct satellites and there have been over six hundred on-orbit collisions due to space debris. The new version is called ELSA-M. Here is how it will work.
How does Astroscale work? Astroscale evaluates the client’s satellite prior to performing any docking or alignment maneuvers. ELSA-M has thrusters that allow her to drop the satellite into a lower atmospheric level where it can safely disintegrate. Once that is done ELSA-M reroutes itself toward the next satellite.
Japan et.al. plans to debut a new version of the ELSA-M in 2024 that will be able to service satellites and decommission them. It has an orbital lifespan of approximately fifteen years. The U.K. arm of this project just signed a contract with OneWeb for $3.2 Million to support their launch and disposal of over six thousand satellites into LEO.
Stay tuned for more or visit the below websites for more information.