Orbital junk remover aces first test

Space Signal Infrastructure, Space Vehicle

Astroscale conducted the first test of their ELSA-d (End-of-Life Services by Astroscale – demonstration) spacecraft in low earth orbit. ELSA-d brought with it a cubesat where it successfully demonstrated its debris cleanup capabilities with several repeated “catch and release” maneuvers onto a magnetic docking plate. Astroscale is one among many organizations to have entered the future lucrative business of end-of-life disposal and debris clean-up in cislunar space. They recently inked a deal with OneWeb to create a new spacecraft (ELSA-M, or multi) to capture multiple end-of-life satellites with a single spacecraft – to the tune of $3.4 million.

This industry will be worth a lot more in the future, especially as it diversifies into collecting different regimes of debris – from derelict spacecraft meters wide to the critical 10 cm debris which cannot be detected by standard space situational awareness tools yet is large enough to cause problems upon conjunction events. Both state and private actors would be very interested in this tool as it increases the security and decreases the need for debris avoidance maneuvers for their missions.

The two main types of threats would attack different components of the system. The maneuvers for ELSA-d required a constant patchwork of in-view ground stations in order to maintain continuous contact and command capabilities for up to 30 minutes at a time. A terrorist actor would probably aim to disrupt this communication network, impeding future contact or losing tracking of the target satellites. A state actor would be more interested in the space vehicle itself, perhaps taking command and using it to remove another state’s satellites from orbit,

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