Astroscale to restart debris-removal demo with half the thrusters

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COLORADO SPRINGS — Astroscale plans to resume an attempt to capture a satellite acting as a piece of debris in low Earth orbit despite losing half the servicer’s eight thrusters.

Most of the other issues that forced Astroscale to pause its End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission Jan. 26 have been mitigated or resolved, the Tokyo-based startup said in an April 6 news release.

However, the company has been unable to fix ongoing technical issues affecting four “non-functional” 1-newton High Performance Green Propulsion (1N HPGP) thrusters.

All eight thrusters were provided by Swedish propulsion specialist ECAPS, which is owned by U.S.-based Bradford Space.

Bradford Space CEO Ian Fichtenbaum said his company is aware of the thruster issues and is providing support “to the best of our abilities.”

Fichtenbaum said: “These issues do not relate to and are not a result of the design or build of the thrusters and we have full confidence in our products.”

Astroscale said it aims to continue the ELSA-d mission after clearing the other undisclosed anomalies. However, the loss of thrusters has impacted the ability of its 175-kilogram servicer to capture the 17-kilogram client as planned.

“With safety always paramount, our team has used a complex mix of burns with the remaining thrusters, aerodynamic drag, and the natural perturbations of Earth’s gravity to bring the servicer safely back to a distance where we can continue with operations,” the company said.

Astroscale said it would move the servicer to within 160 meters of the client “in the near future,” where it will seek to validate a low-power radio sensor needed to detect and track the servicer to operate more autonomously.

“Success in this demonstration would be an important advancement for rendezvous and proximity operations, especially under more challenging circumstances than planned,” it said.

The company then plans to move the servicer to a safe distance while it decides whether to go ahead with a recapture mission.

The servicer had earlier successfully captured the client in an Aug. 25 demonstration that involved more manual control by flight operators in the U.K.