Denver-based Astroscale U.S. employees recently celebrated the successful orbital test of technology that will allow the company to remove space junk and service on-orbit satellites.
The company, a division of Tokyo-based Astroscale Holdings Inc., announced Thursday it successfully demonstrated the ability to capture its client spacecraft with a "magnetic capture system.”
“We think of ourselves as the AAA of space,” said Taylor McPhail, digital marketing manager, of the company's services repairing dead satellites or getting them removed from orbit.
Officials dubbed the mission “ELSA-d,” which stands for End-of-Life Services by Astroscale. It’s basically two satellites stacked together and was launched into low Earth orbit (about 342 miles up) in March by GK Launch Services on a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan.
“This marks the start of the world’s first commercial mission to prove the core technologies necessary for space debris docking and removal,” according to a release.
During the test, the two satellites separated, then the client spacecraft or “test debris” was pulled back in magnetically.
“This has been a fantastic first step in validating all the key technologies for rendezvous and proximity operations and capture in space,” said CEO Nobu Okada in a statement. “We are proud to have proven our magnetic capture capabilities and excited to drive on-orbit servicing forward with ELSA-d.”
Estimates vary wildly, but there are tens of thousands of pieces of space junk – dead satellites and pieces of shed rockets or boosters – orbiting the Earth. Astroscale works with satellite companies to put docking plates on the spacecraft so it can be more easily retrieved, and disposed of by sending it into the Earth’s atmosphere to burn up.
The company located it’s U.S. headquarters in Denver in 2019. There are currently about 200 employees working there, McPhail said. Astroscale also has offices in Washington D.C. and London.
“We’ve been growing like a weed,” McPhail said. “Space sustainability is huge right now. We’re working with companies educating them about responsible behavior to use products like ours. It keeps the space economy strong.”
The company’s work to refuel and maintain satellites in space is growing.
“It actually saves costs and is a benefit to operators,” McPhail said. “These fully functioning satellites run out of gas. (Companies) can still make money from those and sometimes add years longer to its mission.”