If a government customer like the ESA can be secured for kick-starting business, Franco-Italian space hardware provider and satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space will enter the satellite servicing market. Director Roberto Provera said that the company plans on being a part of the satellite servicing business by 2024/2025 and is currently developing concepts for the same. He added that strong emphasis would be put on debris removal. Provera said on 8th April at the 35th Space Symposium that in-orbit servicing capability will aid in cleaning up the space environment and that they plan on beginning with in-orbit manufacturing tests.
The ESA (European Space Agency) heads the e.deorbit program which can captures satellites and remove it from orbits, either by sending it very far away from known orbits or by destroying it in Earth’s atmosphere by burning it. The program was revised by ESA last year as its initial demonstration mission was considered too risky by space industry. The new and updated program offers additional services like in-orbit repair and refueling as well. Also, it doesn’t specifically mention the satellite that a company is to deorbit. Provera mentioned that this program is being followed by his company as they have similar plans with different prototypes with same root technologies and capabilities.
Two other companies, namely Effective Space and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, are also planning on launching satellite services for commercial customers. The firms are reportedly making preparations for the same. The former secured a Proton rideshare in 2018 for the future launching of a couple of Space Drone satellite life-extension vehicles in 2020. The latter is, on the other hand, launching its first-ever Mission Extension Vehicle MEV-1 on an International Launch Services Proton this year.
The entry of Thales Alenia Space could fill the void created by Maxar Technologies that left the public-private partnership RSGS (Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites) program of US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in January citing cost issues amid its financial struggles. Although DARPA is on the look-out for another partner for the RSGS mission, Thales Alenia Space will not bid on it said Provera.
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