Astroscale UK Signs £2.5 Million Agreement to Develop Space Debris Removal Technology Innovations with OneWeb

Rendering of the ELSA-M satellite in orbit. (Credit: Astroscale)

DIDCOT, UK, May 24, 2021 (Astroscale UK PR) – Astroscale UK announces funding award from partners OneWeb, the global satellite communications network, to mature their technology and capability towards a commercial service offering by 2024.

This latest £2.5 million [$3.5 million] award forms part of a larger beam-hopping satellite programme, totalling over £32 million [$45.3 million], granted from the UK Space Agency, via the European Space Agency’s Sunrise Programme to partners including OneWeb, SatixFy, Celestia UK and Astroscale UK.

OneWeb is leading the way in providing satellite services with space sustainability at the heart of their mission goals. John Auburn, Managing Director of Astroscale UK and Group Chief Commercial Officer says, “This partnership with OneWeb demonstrates their commitment to space sustainability and is the next step towards maturing our technologies to develop a full-service debris removal offering by 2024. Astroscale’s ELSA-M servicer is specifically designed for the servicing of constellation satellites that are fitted with a compatible docking plate, including OneWeb’s Joey-Sat.”

Operation of the ELSA-M satellite. (Credit: Astroscale)

Astroscale’s Sunrise-funded programme, known as ELSA-M, will develop the technology to remove multiple retired satellites in a single mission. John Auburn adds, “This multi-client strategy will drive down service costs and incentivise large satellite constellation partners to accelerate the speed at which they remove space junk.”

Astroscale’s ELSA-d demonstration mission is currently in low Earth orbit (LEO), preparing for a series of complex rendezvous and close proximity debris capture and release manoeuvres this summer. Much of the innovative autonomous technology undergoing testing during ELSA-d this year will continue to evolve, at pace, during this new Sunrise ELSA-M programme, including the on-board algorithms, sensors and software.

Dr Jason Forshaw, Head of Future Business, Europe explains, “We’d like to thank OneWeb, UKSA, and ESA for their efforts in supporting the development of this project. This funding will help us evolve key rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) technologies and capabilities beyond ELSA-d towards an end-of-life servicing offering for a range of constellation customers. Our ELSA-M service will have the capability to undertake multiple sequential debris removals expanding the reusability of the servicer.”

Forshaw adds, “In parallel to this project, we’re developing our next generation docking plate (DP), which is fitted to clients before launch, and is designed to enable a servicer to grapple the client. We are encouraging constellation customers to fit DPs to ‘future proof’ their satellites in case of need for removal due to failure, or at end of life, or to provide future in-orbit servicing. OneWeb is maintaining a leading role with its Responsible Space initiative, by committing to fit OneWeb satellites with a compatible docking plate, including Joey-Sat.”

Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at ESA, said: “Joey-Sat will be used to demonstrate how next-generation 5G connectivity can benefit life on Earth. ESA is proud to support the space industry in Europe to bring such innovation to the competitive global telecommunications market. We congratulate all the partners involved.”

John Auburn concludes, “We’re delighted to partner with the Sunrise team to support the UK government’s space sustainability leadership goals, and keen to rapidly advance the UK’s commercial growth in providing in-orbit servicing over the next few years.”