Orbital spacecraft sustainability startup Astroscale has acquired the IP, most assets and staff of a an Isreali company called Effective Space Solutions in order to broaden its service offering to include servicing geostationary (GEO) satellites, as well as low Earth orbit (LEO) debris removal. Astroscale, founded in Japan in 2013 with a mission of addressing the growing problem of orbital debris and sustainable space operations, is also setting up an office in Israel as part of this deal.
Already, Astroscale has offices in the U.K., the U.S. and Singapore, and this new arrangement will make it even more of a global company. The operation in Israel will focus on the GEO satellite life extension aspect of the business, which is what ESS was working on previously. Satellite life extension is actually something that a number of companies are looking to develop and bring to market, including orbital ‘gas station’ company Orbit Fab, as well as larger legacy industry companies like Maxar.
Extending the life of GEO satellites with on-orbit servicing is potentially a very lucrative industry, since it would mean that companies can get a lot more usable life, and revenue, out of their considerable investments in building the expensive, large and pricey to launch spacecraft to begin with.
GEO satellites provide crucial communications and navigation infrastructure, including via GPS, as well as satellite internet networks and long-distance Earth imaging and observation capabilities. On-orbit satellite servicing could mean that these investments, which can range into the billions, can operate long beyond their intended lifespan, and could even eventually be updated with new hardware, sensors or other capabilities as more modern equipment than they launched with becomes available.
Launch costs are often the most expensive part of deploying any orbital spacecraft, so the potential of repurposing existing on orbit assets through life extension efforts could change the fundamental economics of doing business in space.
Astroscale will be taking on and continuing to develop ESS’ Space Drone program, which is not yet at the point where it’s actually launching orbital space servicing missions, but the work of the Isreali company will definitely give Astrocale a leg-up in terms of building out its own orbital servicing ambitions.