Astroscale projects
Astroscale has several projects underway to service satellites and remove debris. Credit: Astroscale

WASHINGTON — Astroscale announced Nov. 25 that it raised $109 million from European and Japanese investors in a round it says will allow it to accelerate plans for active debris removal and satellite servicing.

The Series F round, the largest to date raised by the Tokyo-based company, was led by Japan’s THE FUND Limited Partnership with participation from several other investors, including Seraphim Space Investment Trust in the United Kingdom and DNCA Invest Beyond Global Leaders, a sub-fund of Luxembourg-based DNCA Invest and managed by DNCA Finance in France.

With this latest round, Astroscale has raised $300 million, providing the company with capital to move ahead on several initiatives for servicing satellites and removing debris. That includes its End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission, which demonstrated in August the ability to release and capture an object in orbit. Another demonstration of ELSA-d’s ability to capture a tumbling object is expected to take place before the end of the year.

“This latest round of funding will dramatically accelerate our ability to make on-orbit servicing routine by 2030,” Nobu Okada, founder and chief executive of Astroscale, said in a statement. “It also shows that investors around the world acknowledge the tremendous potential in the emerging on-orbit servicing market, which will revolutionize the future of space.”

“The long-term sustainable health of the space sector is becoming ever more important with tens of thousands of satellite launches planned in the coming years,” Mark Boggett, chief executive of Seraphim Space, said in a statement about the funding round. “The ball is now firmly rolling on regulation and self-regulation to protect the space environment. We believe that now is the optimum time to invest into this emerging market that will be worth billions over the coming decades.”

In addition to ELSA-d, Astroscale has a contract with the Japanese space agency JAXA for the Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) mission, with an initial phase under development to inspect a Japanese upper stage in preparation for potentially deorbiting it. The company won a contract from the U.K. Space Agency in October to study deorbiting two defunct British satellites, including possibly a OneWeb satellite that failed last year. Astroscale’s U.S. and Israeli offices are working on a geostationary satellite servicing system called Life Extension In-Orbit.

Astroscale and Virgin Orbit announced a partnership Nov. 17 to examine potential cooperation in space sustainability. That could include the launch of as many as 10 Astroscale missions on Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne over the next decade as well as study a future joint satellite servicing mission. An Astroscale executive said at the time that the discussions between the two companies were still in a preliminary phase, with no firm timetables or purchases of launches.

Astroscale hinted in its announcement that it’s looking beyond satellite servicing and active debris removal into other aspects of what’s known as On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing, or OSAM. “This expansion of services will include in-orbit manufacturing, as well as satellite assembly, refueling, recycling and more in the near future,” the company said in its statement.

“There are a lot of challenges out there that we need to overcome, but it’s also a very exciting time,” Ron Lopez, president and managing director of Astroscale U.S., said during a panel discussion at the ASCEND conference Nov. 17. “We’re starting to see a trend with satellite and satellite servicing, with satellites providing value on orbit to other satellites. When you see more of that, that’s going to be that knee in the curve for that trillion-dollar space economy that everybody talks about.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...