SAN FRANCISCO — Within a year, Astroscale plans to begin a complex series of demonstrations to show the startup’s spacecraft can grab a piece of space debris and dispose of it in the atmosphere.
If the 2020 End-of-Life Service by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission is successful, it could prompt satellite operators to begin designing spacecraft for in-orbit retrieval and convince space agencies and constellation operators to set aside funding for the service, said Chris Blackerby, Astroscale chief operating officer and Japan director.
“When I was with NASA, debris was a concern but many people didn’t believe it was possible to have a viable commercial enterprise focused on debris removal,” said Blackerby, who led NASA’s Asia team and served as NASA’s attaché at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. “It’s an exciting time to be part of the industry making this happen.”
Tokyo-based Astroscale may conduct the first commercial debris-removal mission but it’s not alone in seeing cleaning up low Earth orbit as a worthwhile activity and a promising business venture.
ClearSpace of Switzerland has similar goals. The startup, established in December 2017, is a spinoff of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the university that was leading the Swiss Space Agency’s ...