A consortium led by SSTL, a British small satellite manufacturer, has been awarded funding from the UK Space Agency to research a mission to remove 2 spacecraft from the low Earth orbit (LEO) by the year 2025. The collaboration joins two other consortia, one run by Swiss startup ClearSpace as well as the other by Japan-based Astroscale, that received financing in October to finish mission feasibility analysis by the end of March.
According to a UK Space Agency official, the three groups will get around $1.3 million (£1 million) in overall funding under Active Debris Removal Phase 0-A Feasibility Study. “The SSTL study comprises a larger partnership, and it took longer to finish the paperwork with United Kingdom Space Agency,” Joelle Sykes, the SSTL public relations manager explained.
Airbus Defence and Space is part of the SSTL team, as with GMV NSL, a satellite navigation expert, NORSS, a space situational awareness company, Satellite Applications Catapult, and two academic institutions: the University of Lincoln and the University of Surrey. ClearSpace is also a member of the SSTL-led collaboration, which the smallsat manufacturer refers to as LEOPARD (Low Earth Orbit Pursuit for Active Debris Removal).
ClearSpace is in charge of consulting with customers and researching future market needs for LEOPARD. The 3 study groups outlining a mission to recover numerous defunct spacecraft from orbit have many links.
Satellite Applications Catapult and SSTL are part of a different consortium that ClearSpace is heading. Under the Japanese startup’s End-of-Life Services by the Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission, SSTL also constructed the client spacecraft Astroscale is now servicing in LEO to showcase debris-removal capabilities.
As per SSTL, it has engaged in a variety of end-of-life spacecraft in orbit which could be chosen for LEOPARD, offering it a leg up on the competition due to its in-depth understanding of designs and operating states. Two defunct spaceships that have been sent to the LEO under the United Kingdom license must be removed by the study groups. Jonathan McDowell of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, which is a satellite tracker, estimates that at least 14 spacecraft fit the criterion.
“At this point in the analysis, we’re not ready to say which of the end-of-life satellites would be candidates for de-orbiting,” Sykes said, “since the selection is going to depend on conducting additional work on de-orbiting technologies first.” The RemoveDEBRIS program, which the British satellite manufacturer says ended a series of the debris retrieval trials in January 2019, would also be used, according to SSTL.
RemoveDEBRIS, which was coordinated by University of Surrey and supported by European Commission and Surrey Space Center, included Airbus Defense and Space. The LEOPARD study also attempts to propose possibilities for repurposing the “chaser” spacecraft that will be used to collect space debris, such as the capability to be refueled for future missions.