ClearSpace announces life extension collaboration with Intelsat

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TAMPA, Fla. — ClearSpace, the Swiss orbital debris removal startup, said Nov. 14 it is planning a mission to extend the life of an Intelsat satellite before it runs out of fuel around 2026-2028.

The four-year-old company’s announcement gave no further details about its “collaboration” with Intelsat, which marks an expansion for ClearSpace out of plans to clean up debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) to servicing geostationary spacecraft.

Intelsat declined to comment on the specifics of its collaboration with ClearSpace.

“With this in-orbit servicing collaboration, besides the economic benefits of the services, Intelsat is supporting ClearSpace´s work towards an accessible, resilient and sustainable space economy,” Intelsat chief technology officer Bruno Fromont said.

ClearSpace aims to build on core capabilities it is already developing for the European Space Agency’s ClearSpace-1 program in 2025, the venture’s first mission, when it aims to use a spacecraft with four articulated arms to de-orbit part of a Vega rocket.

Separately in September, the UK Space Agency shortlisted groups led by ClearSpace and Japan-based in-orbit servicing venture Astroscale for a mission to remove two spacecraft from LEO in 2026.

Intelsat is currently the only satellite operator that has employed commercial life extension services.

Mission Extension Vehicles (MEVs) from Northrop Grumman are currently extending the lives of two Intelsat satellites that were previously running out of fuel: IS 901 and IS 10-02. Their five-year agreements started in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

SpaceLogistics, Northrop Grumman’s satellite-servicing subsidiary, plans to send a new type of servicer called a Mission Robotic Vehicle (MRV) to a satellite owned by Australia’s Optus in 2024. The MRV will have a robotic arm designed to install propulsion jet packs on satellites that need more fuel.

Other startups are also developing businesses for the nascent satellite life-extension market. 

Starfish Space said Nov. 9 it has booked a SpaceX launch to perform its first satellite docking test next fall.