Airbus to build a “space tug”

There are already various space projects designed to rescue orbital satellites, not least Orbital ATK’s Mission Extension Vehicle which has booked a launch on an International Launch Services (ILS) Proton rocket next year.

Other projects, from NASA’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) and Canada’s MDA also include ‘rescue tugs’. SES of Luxembourg has contracted with MDA-Space Systems Loral to build a rescue craft and it is due to launch in 2021.

Airbus Defence & Space now says it is building a satellite that’s capable of servicing and refueling in-orbit satellites and also a potential role in cleaning up the worrying amount of space junk.

Airbus is vague on who might be interested in its new project, but there are plenty of satellite operators which have expressed interest in such projects, not least Intelsat and Arabsat.

SES itself, when it confirmed the order with MDA/SSL said the contract also included an option for more than one ‘rescue’ craft.  In June SES said it will operate the plan via a new venture, Space Infrastructure Services (SIS), which will commercialise sophisticated satellite servicing capabilities. “SIS has contracted SS/L to design and build the highly-capable satellite servicing spacecraft vehicle to meet the needs of the DARPAs Robotic Servicing of Geosynchronous Satellites (RSGS) programme, which is designed to inspect, repair, relocate and augment geosynchronous satellites and plans to include a refueling payload to extend the life of satellites that are low on propellant,” says SES.

“Satellite in-orbit servicing is of upmost importance to next-generation architectures for communications satellites. It enables satellite operators like us to have more flexibility in managing our fleet and meeting our customers’ demands,” said Martin Halliwell, CTO at SES, in June. “After witnessing the due diligence of SSL’s and MDA’s technical expertise, we are confident that its new venture is the best partner in the refuelling mission field, and will be able to help SES get more value out of an on-orbit satellite.”

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