Space Drone
Space Drone, a satellite life extension vehicle under development by Effective Space, would attach to communications satellites to take over maneuvering. Credit: Effective Space

PARIS — Effective Space, a startup developing a satellite servicing system, announced Sept. 11 an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to provide technical and financial support.

Under the agreement, IAI will serve as the prime contractor for Effective Space’s Space Drone servicing vehicle, which is intended to provide satellite life extension services. IAI will also work to provide an unspecified amount of financing for Effective Space.

In an interview during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here, Opher Doron, vice president and general of IAI’s space division, said the partnership was a natural one. “It fitted the business interests of both companies,” he said. “We were looking to expand our portfolio of small satellites, which we do best, and they were looking for a manufacturer they could trust.”

Doron said that IAI was also interested in investing in satellite services, while Effective Space was looking for the funding. “We will be providing financing,” he said, although the specific amounts and terms are pending corporate approval.

Space Drone will attach to satellites in geostationary orbit to take over stationkeeping and attitude control. Effective Space has been working on the design of the spacecraft, including recent tests of the docking system, with plans to launch the first two Space Drone vehicles on a Proton in 2020 for an unidentified “international satellite operator.”

The Space Drone concept is similar to the Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) under development by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. Daniel Campbell, managing director of Effective Space, in an interview that he expected to be competitive with MEV in terms of price. “Customer start with the technology,” he said. “If we assume the technology works, it will eventually go to price.”

Effective Space is headquartered in the U.K., where it has been working with regulators on a license to operate its missions “From a customer’s perspective, it provides a lot of confidence being under the U.K. flag because of that mission license framework,” said Campbell. He contrasted that to the less certain regulatory environment in the U.S., where no one agency has clear authority to license and oversee such systems.

Both Effective Space and IAI believe there will be significant demand for the Space Drone services, citing GEO satellite operators who are delaying decisions on new satellite orders. “Look at all those not ordering satellites this year,” said IAI’s Doron of current satellite operators. “What’s going to happen with all of their satellites in three years’ time? We think there’s a good market for that.”

Arie Halsband, founder and chief executive of Effecitve Space, said some potential customers are waiting to see the Space Drone enter service before signing up. “They would ready to go ahead after docking” to the first satellite. “They want us to demonstrate that we can do the mission.”

Campbell argued that the main competition for Effective Space is not Northrop Grumman or other companies working on satellite servicing systems. “Our main competitor is the replacement satellite,” he said.

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...