Astroscale pauses debris-removal demo following anomaly

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TAMPA, Fla. — Astroscale said Jan. 26 it has paused an attempt to autonomously capture an in-orbit satellite for the first time after detecting “anomalous spacecraft conditions.”

The company’s 175-kilogram servicer spacecraft was preparing to make the attempt Jan. 25, after separating from a 17-kilogram client satellite acting as a piece of debris for a series of on-orbit demonstrations.

While the servicer had successfully used its magnetic mechanism to release and recapture the client in an Aug. 25 test, this demonstration aimed to use autonomous capabilities for a larger-scale mission.

However, Astroscale said the company detected an anomaly after the servicer began “autonomous relative navigation, maintaining a constant and safe distance from the client spacecraft over multiple orbits” as the company prepared for recapture.

“For the safety of the mission we have decided not to proceed with the capture attempt until the anomalies are resolved,” Astroscale said.

“Both spacecraft are operational and safely separated. We are in communication with agencies, regulators, space surveillance networks, and our orbital neighbors.”

The company added it still plans to continue the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) and “will provide an update as soon as possible.”

In addition to being autonomous, this mission aimed to recapture the client spacecraft after releasing it to a much greater distance than the August test, while employing full-scale rendezvous and proximity operations for the first time.

The servicer and client were separated by a few centimeters for Astroscale’s manual demonstration in August. Astroscale confirmed the client had separated tens of meters away from the servicer at the start of its autonomous test, but declined to disclose the current distance.

The satellites have been in low Earth orbit since they were launched together on a Soyuz rocket March 22. Astroscale plans to initiate a controlled de-orbit phase after completing ELSA-d ’s main demonstration elements.

 

This article was updated Jan. 27 to correct a sentence that said Astroscale had confirmed the client is currently tens of meters away from the servicer.