All Aboard the French Space Van

ExoTrail wins contract to demonstrate orbital transfer for French agencies – by Debra Werner 

The French have awarded a new contract to ExoTrail for the SPACEVAN (sidebar, I am convinced that adding space in front of anything makes it sound 1000% cooler). The space van concept will change the orbits of operational satellites. Its first target is a NavoAvionics, hopefully changing its semimajor orbital axis by 700m (which is pretty modest but enough by space standards).

A change in satellite orbit can have a huge impact, even if its modest. It can extend the satellite’s life expectancy, delaying the effects of orbital decay due to atmospheric drag (at LEO). But also Satellite communications are dependent on knowing where a satellite is. A ground antenna must be pointed in the right direction at the right time to acquire a vehicle. So if an enemy wanted to knock out a satellite from operations but do no real damage, changing its orbital properties is one way to do it. Or a change in orbit could be in place to speed up atmospheric decay.

Like other on orbit servicing missions, the tech and concept is really cool and powerful but could be very dangerous if left unsecured. These missions need to be secured so hackers can’t hijack a SPACEVAN and kidnap a satellite to a different orbit.