12 March 2018 News

Satellite-servicing space drones set for launch in 2020

The ILS Proton Breeze M vehicle with its anticipated SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft payload. Image: ILS
The ILS Proton Breeze M vehicle with its anticipated SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft payload. Image: ILS

U.S based International Launch Services (ILS) and UK headquartered Effective Space have announced a partnership that will see the two working together to launch Effective Space’s SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft into orbit in 2020.

Built specifically to prolong the working life of communication satellites already in orbit, the SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft is a small (1m x 1m x 1.25m), 400-kilogram spacecraft that locks onto its intended target with a universal, non-intrusive docking system.

Once attached as an external ‘jetpack’, the life-preserving spacecraft uses electric propulsion to perform specific duties such as station-keeping, relocation, orbit correction, inclination correction and deorbiting.

Although only two drones will be dispatched in this first launch, Effective Space plan to extend the fleet by deploying up to six SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft per year on an annual basis. Once in place, the drones could be used for additional tasks such as supporting low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations and active-debris-removal (ADR) missions. The diminutive craft’s longer term uses could also include support for asteroid-mining, deep space exploration and space manufacturing logistics.

“Launching our first two SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft into a geostationary orbit is part of our strong commitment to our first customer, meeting mission timeline and ensuring smooth transition into a life-extension service,” said Arie Halsband, founder and CEO of Effective Space.

“Due to the attractive economics, extending existing assets in space is something that is gaining significant traction in today’s market. With that in mind, the announcement of this launch, utilizing the performance of the Proton Breeze M vehicle, is an important milestone for a rapidly developing market,” added Halsband.

The SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft will reach its destination with the aid of ILS’s Proton Breeze M vehicle when it blasts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in a couple of years. The Proton Breeze M has launched 416 times since its maiden launch in 1965, when it started out as a two-stage vehicle.

“ILS is focused on serving the satellite industry with flexible, and affordable launch solutions and our agreement with Effective Space is a perfect example of that. The performance of the Proton Breeze M vehicle to deliver the SPACE DRONE™ spacecraft directly to geostationary orbit combined with our decades-long history of launching dual or multiple spacecraft at one time, makes it a natural fit for Proton to deploy their spacecraft,” said ILS President Kirk Pysher.

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