Northern Sky Research (NSR), in its latest edition of its In-Orbit Servicing study. forecasts that 533 satellites could be candidates for in-orbit servicing including life extension, relocation, de-orbiting, salvage and robotic involvement.
This new industry – the very first in-orbit ‘rescue’ took place earlier this year – will be helped by new FCC rules which updated its orbital debris requirements. The April instructions from the FCC now require satellite operators to quantify their collision risk, probability of successfully disposing spacecraft, and casualty risk of spacecraft that re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
NSR says the new rules will mean more business for in-orbit activity by rescue vehicles. Each of these missions directly or indirectly help to mitigate debris, either by inspection, salvaging a satellite to the correct orbit, move a satellite to graveyard orbit or End of Life disposal/ de-orbiting, to reduce the number of defunct satellites in orbit.
“De-orbiting makes for the largest part of the market with 324 satellites expected to be serviced by this application,” says NSR. NSR, in its study, takes into consideration the number of satellites planned (and expected) to launch over the next decade per year, and a part of that number is what is considered as the market for these services and is quite sensitive to regulatory changes.
NSR highlights the risks involved in particular over compliance and enforcement of the new regulations which have taken 15 years to be formulated by the FCC.
“It is a global issue, and a piecemeal approach will not have a significant impact on space sustainability and the enabling in-orbit services like End of Life disposal and de-orbiting. Unless there is major international buy-in and standardised regulations and better enforcement methods are established, it might take longer than the industry can afford,” says NSR.