TAMPA, Fla. — Italy’s space agency has awarded local companies 235 million euros ($256 million) in pandemic relief funds for an in-orbit servicing demo in 2026, the group’s leader Thales Alenia Space announced May 15. 

Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales of France and Leonardo of Italy, said the group is contracted to design, develop, and qualify a spacecraft capable of performing a range of autonomous robotic operations on satellites in low Earth orbit.

The company did not disclose details about the 2026 mission, but said the servicer would have a dexterous robotic arm and test capabilities that include refueling, component repair or replacement, orbital transfer, and atmospheric reentry.

The servicer will be launched with a target satellite, said Maria Antonietta Perino, director of space economy exploration at Thales Alenia Space, and both will be fitted with an interface for a refueling mission.

Perino said the servicer would also be designed to serve larger satellites that it would capture with its robotic arm.

Leonardo is providing the robotic arm, developed with SAB Aerospace, the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, and the Italian Institute of Technology.

Spaceflight services company Telespazio and rocket builder Avio are also part of the consortium, along with D-Orbit, the space tug specialist that completed its first commercial mission in late 2020. 

Massimo Comparini, senior executive vice president of observation, exploration, and navigation at Thales Alenia Space, said the mission would highlight how established players could combine their skills and experience with more agile emerging space companies.

“By working together they will generate synergies that ensure the future viability of the space sector,” Comparini said, “while also developing all-Italian technologies to support the growth of the country’s space industry.”

Telespazio is responsible for the mission’s ground segment, with support from Altec, a joint venture between Thales Alenia Space and Italy’s space agency.

Avio is in charge of orbital support and developing a propulsion module for the servicer, which would be based on a custom platform developed by Thales Alenia Space. D-Orbit is managing activities related to the target satellite platform, which would be based on its ION orbital transfer vehicle, and is also overseeing the development of a refueling system that could transfer fluid from the servicer to the target satellite.

The Italian government has allotted about 2 billion euros ($2.2bn) in total for its space industry under the country’s National Plan for Recovery and Resilience to boost its post-pandemic economy.

A 1.1 billion euro chunk of these funds has been earmarked for developing an Earth observation constellation called IRIDE, or International Report for Innovative Defense of Earth.

This article was updated May 16 with comments from Thales Alenia Space about the mission.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...