Scale model of Astroscale's Space Debris Removal Satellite ELSA-d on display at the 35th Space Symposium at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, April 10, 2019. Credit: Keith Johnson/SpaceNews

TAMPA, Fla. — Astroscale said Feb. 27 it has raised $76 million from investors including satellite maker Mitsubishi Electric, which plans to add docking plates to Japanese national security spacecraft to make them compatible with the debris removal venture’s servicers. 

Japan-based Astroscale has now raised more than $376 million since it was founded a decade ago for a business aiming to make on-orbit servicing routine by 2030.

The funds “will significantly contribute to further innovative technology development, global expansion and increased capacity to meet the growing demand,” Astroscale CEO and founder Nobu Okada said in a statement.

Mitsubishi Electric invested $25 million in the Series G round. 

The companies agreed to jointly develop and build satellite chassis with standardized magnetic plates that servicers could use to move or de-orbit them more easily when they have reached the end of their missions.

They did not provide further details about their collaboration. 

Astroscale demonstrated how its servicers could latch onto a docking plate in low Earth orbit (LEO) in 2021 during capture and release tests as part of ELSA-d, or End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration.

Despite the 175-kilogram servicer losing half its thrusters last year, Astroscale says ELSA-d is still due to culminate in the servicer de-orbiting its 17-kilogram client craft at some point.

Astroscale spokesperson Dave Hebert said the venture will “have more to share in the coming months” about ELSA-d’s de-orbit timeframe.

Funding boost

Other new investors included billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who became the first private Japanese citizen to visit the International Space Station in December 2021 after launching on a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Maezawa said he invested $23 million in Astroscale’s Series G round to help “protect the future of space travel” from a growing threat of space debris as orbits become increasingly crowded.

The billionaire has plans to travel around the moon with an eclectic group of people on a future launch of SpaceX’s Starship, which has yet to attempt its first orbital launch.

Other investors in the round also came from Japan, comprising Mitsubishi Electric’s parent company, investment bank Mitsubishi UFJ, financial firm FEL Corporation, and the state-owned Development Bank of Japan.

On-orbit servicing milestones

Astroscale next plans to use a spacecraft launching on Rocket Lab Electron early this year to inspect a discarded upper stage of a Japanese H2-A rocket.

Under a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) contract, the Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J) will attempt to demonstrate proximity operations and obtain images of the debris.

Astroscale is competing for the second phase of this JAXA program to remove the debris with a servicing spacecraft capable of capturing an object without a docking plate.

Next year, Astroscale is planning to remove a yet-to-be-announced defunct satellite from LEO as part of the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-multiple mission, or ELSA-m, in partnership with British operator OneWeb and the space agencies of the U.K. and Europe.

ELSA-m will likely attempt to remove a OneWeb satellite as part of this mission. An Astroscale executive last year said most of the satellites in OneWeb’s constellation are equipped with compatible docking plates.

As part of efforts to ramp up for these missions, Astroscale said it has expanded its team by more than 60% since its $109 million Series F funding round in late 2021 to over 400 people.

Astroscale has facilities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel and expects to open up a global headquarters facility in Tokyo, Japan, later this year.

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...