Issue #3(29) 2021 Astronautics

Developing an in-orbit servicing and manufacturing economy

Astroscale launched its ELSA-d mission in March 2021. ELSA-d consists of two satellites stacked together - a servicer designed to safely remove debris from orbit and a client satellite that serves as a piece of replica debris.
Astroscale launched its ELSA-d mission in March 2021. ELSA-d consists of two satellites stacked together - a servicer designed to safely remove debris from orbit and a client satellite that serves as a piece of replica debris.
Harriet Brettle Head of Business Analysis, Astroscale, Oxford, UK
Sam Adlen Satellite Applications Catapult, Oxford, UK

It is widely agreed that the deployment of unprecedented numbers of satellites in the next five to ten years will contribute to more crowded and dangerous orbits. As such there is a need for satellite operators to protect, manage and optimise services in an increasingly congested environment.

In-orbit collisions are low-probability but high-impact events. In 2009, for example, two satellites (the operational Iridium 33 and inactive Kosmos-2251) collided in orbit, resulting in over 2000 debris objects, many of which remain in orbit today. Near-miss events happen much more frequently: for example, in October 2020, LeoLabs monitored a very high-risk conjunction between two large, defunct objects in low Earth orbit (LEO), calculating the probability of collision to be between one and twenty percent.

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