Airbus to challenge SSL, Orbital ATK with new space tug business

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MOSCOW — European manufacturer Airbus Defence and Space said Sept. 27 that it is creating a satellite-servicing vehicle capable of refueling, repairing, and monitoring the health of spacecraft orbiting Earth.

In a tweet Sept. 27, the company described the Airbus Space Tug as “an autonomous spacecraft whose main missions are maintenance, logistics and the cleaning up of Space debris.”

Airbus’ entrance into this market follows that of Orbital ATK, whose first Mission Extension Vehicle launches next year on an ILS Proton rocket, and Space Systems Loral, whose satellite servicer leverages work with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). British-Israeli company Effective Space Solutions is also building servicer spacecraft based on small satellites.

Airbus did not say when the Airbus Space Tug will launch, or if any customers have signed up to use the service.

Airbus already has a foothold in satellite servicing through two European Space Agency programs, CleanSat and eDeorbit. CleanSat is focused on developing deorbit technologies while eDeorbit aims to remove an ESA-owned object from low-Earth orbit following a 2023 launch.

CleanSat partners include fellow satellite manufacturers Thales Alenia Space and OHB Systems; eDeorbit partners — with whom Airbus completed an intermediate Systems Requirement Review (iSRR) last year — include the same partners and British defense company QinetiQ.

Last year Sputnik News reported collaboration between Airbus and Russian company RSC Energia on space tug technology.