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ESA Invites Ideas to Open Up In-orbit Servicing Market

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 5, 2021
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Clean Space has broadened the concept of an active debris removal to a multi-purpose Space Servicing Vehicle that would include debris removal as one of its aims. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA is seeking to open the way to a new era of in-space activities such as refuelling, refurbishment, assembly, manufacturing, and recycling. The Agency is now soliciting ideas for In-Orbit Servicing activities from European industry and academia.

A first stage ‘request for information’ has been posted on ESA’s Open Space Innovation Platform, sponsored by ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher. Respondents are invited to propose both a servicer spacecraft concept and identify a customer to be serviced, with the aim of putting forward a concept or concepts for ESA’s next Ministerial Council in 2022.

The Director General stresses “the need to address the management of assets in space with a sustainability mind-set – financial and environmental.”

One of the main design constraints of space missions is the fact that they are built for high reliability, because once they reach orbit they cannot be fixed. In-Orbit Servicing represents a change of paradigm, because servicer spacecraft would indeed be able to perform repairs, add capabilities, refuel or even recycle parts of the satellites they service.

ClearSpace-1 (Credit: ESA)

Josef Aschbacher notes: “The development of such a market for in-orbit activities – servicing, rendezvous, assembly, refurbish, manufacturing, and recycling – is both expected and desirable, including economically for operators to receive profitable returns on their initial investment.”

In recent years, ESA has invested around €50 million in the development of technologies, supporting industry in system architecture analysis and business cases assessments for In-Orbit Servicing. Equally, ESA has invested and continues to invest and foster new space transportation services, to, in, and from space.

In addition, the Agency has committed to a €100 million contract for the service of the removal of a relic of an ESA mission from orbit. Guidance, navigation and control – plus rendezvous and capture – technologies for this ClearSpace-1 mission, planned for launch in 2025, are being developed through ESA’s Active Debris Removal/ In-Orbit Servicing project, ADRIOS, and will also be applicable to In-Orbit Servicing.

The first commercial In-Orbit Servicing mission has already taken place: last year Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle latched onto Intelsat 901 in geostationary orbit, to take over propulsion duties.

Clean Space has broadened the concept of an active debris removal to a multi-purpose Space Servicing Vehicle that would include debris removal as one of its aims. (Credit: ESA)

In the call for ideas, Director General Aschbacher explains that satellite manufacturers worldwide – start-ups as well as established large system integrators – are gearing up to allow servicing to be performed on satellites they manufacture, thus allowing the offer that is being developed through institutionally supported investments, to be met with demand.

“Looking forward, the aim for ESA is to contribute to creating and capturing new demand in Europe by fostering the service-offering side and to stimulate and enable the demand side of a developing market in the wider context of commercial In-Orbit Servicing (IOS). This new initiative and the request for information are part of that effort.”

For more information, including how to submit a service concept, visit the  OSIP website.

Open Space Innovation Platform

OSIP is ESA’s website that enables the submission of novel ideas for space technology and applications.

Anybody is welcome to submit ideas through OSIP. The platform supports individuals who wish to contribute to European space research and interact with space industry experts. It also encourages ideas from legal entities interested in interacting with ESA and gaining funding or support for new research activities.

OSIP allows ESA to discover novel ideas and invest in new unconventional activities to foster advancement in the space industry.