Kayhan, Astroscale, UT Austin win Space Force study contract for in-orbit servicing technology

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WASHINGTON — Kayhan Space, and partners Astroscale US and the University of Texas at Austin, won a U.S. Space Force contract to develop software for in-orbit servicing vehicles, the companies announced Sept. 28.

The team won a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase 1 award worth $250,000 under the Space Force’s Orbital Prime program. Under the contract, they will develop software to enable spacecraft to conduct proximity maneuvers autonomously.

Orbital Prime is run by SpaceWERX, the technology arm of the U.S. Space Force. In May it selected 125 industry teams for the initial phase of the program, intended to promote commercial development of technologies for orbital debris cleanup and other space services.

Orbital Prime STTR contracts require small businesses to team with academic or nonprofit institutions. Winners of Phase 1 contracts in 2023 will have an opportunity to compete for second-phase awards of up to $1.5 million to continue development and prototyping.

Kayhan Proxima, a software application designed for autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO), will be deployed as an enhancement to Astroscale’s current flight software used in servicing vehicles. “This complements and enhances our RPO solution to work more autonomously by leveraging Kayhan’s collision avoidance expertise,” said Astroscale.

The technology will be offered to the Space Force for possible use in a demonstration planned for 2024. Potential applications for autonomous RPO include in-space assembly and manufacturing, refueling, maintenance, debris removal and other activities.

Kayhan Space, a startup based in Boulder, Colorado, has won Small Business Innovation Research contracts for its space situational awareness and collision avoidance technology. 

Astroscale provides on-orbit logistics and debris removal services to governments and commercial satellite operators. Denver, Colorado-based Astroscale US is a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Astroscale Holdings.

The Kayhan Proxima enhancement will allow “close proximity among spacecraft in extremely popular and busy orbits by enabling repeatable, safe and autonomous RPO missions and maneuvers with minimal manual support,” said the company’s co-founder and CEO Siamak Hesar.

“The goal is to make RPO missions autonomous, which is necessary for the growing new space economy. We want to minimize the need to have ground crews supporting every RPO process,” he said.

Ron Lopez, president and managing director of Astroscale U.S., said the team will seek to “provide the Space Force and SpaceWERX a solution that achieves their vision to enable sustainable space operations.”

Renato Zanetti, assistant aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics professor at UT Austin, said the STTR contract is an opportunity for the university to support Space Force goals to conduct “efficient and safe RPO operations in space.”