A report by Northern Sky Research (NSR) forecasts that in orbit satellite servicing could be a cumulative $4.5 billion business by 2028.
These ‘space tugs’ (more officially called ‘Life Extension Vehicles’ or In-Orbit servicing’) are planned to be launched in order to ‘rescue’ a failing satellite. That satellite might have a technical problem, or simply be running out of fuel. But there’s also a new opportunity, in the de-orbiting of problem Low Earth Orbiting satellites.
The big money is on rescuing highly valuable geostationary communications satellites. These can cost up to $300 million to build, launch and insure.
“In-Orbit servicing is a gateway to new opportunities and revenue streams in space,” notes NSR Senior Analyst and report co-author, Shagun Sachdeva. “Options like life extension, robotics, and salvage not only offer immediate cost benefits, but open environmentally positive possibilities, such as debris removal in the near term to recycling components from defunct, de-orbited satellites in the long term.”
Over the next decade, In Orbit servicing is expected to be dominated by GEO services– making up 78 per cent of the total revenues according to NSR’s report.
NASA’s DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is backing a couple of robotic spacecraft projects. Israel Aerospace Industries is also building a pair of what they call ‘space drones’ to be launched next year, while Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) is also planned to launch in 2020 and has a client in the shape of Intelsat which wants to ‘rescue’ its I-901 craft.