Astroscale's ELSA-d spacecraft, designed to demonstrate technologies to approach and capture orbital debris, is under development for launch in 2020. Credit: Astroscale

WASHINGTON — Astroscale, a company developing technologies to capture and deorbit space debris, announced Oct. 31 it raised a $50 million Series D round that brings its total to date to $102 million.

Astroscale, headquartered in Singapore but with its main research and development offices in Tokyo, said that its new round was led by Innovation Network Corporation of Japan (INCJ) with participation from several other Japanese investors, including SBI Investment Company Ltd. and Mitsubishi Estate Company Ltd. INCJ, in a separate statement, said it was contributing up to $35 million in new funding, with $25.5 million of that provided now.

The company plans to use the funding to support several ongoing efforts, including the development of a technology demonstration satellite called ELSA-d. That spacecraft, scheduled for launch in early 2020 on a Soyuz rocket, will feature “target” and “chaser” satellites to demonstrate rendezvous and proximity operations. The target spacecraft is being built by British smallsat developer Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. under a contract announced last November.

The funding will support scaling up an operations center Astroscale established in the United Kingdom in 2017 that also handles engineering, procurement and business development. Astroscale said it plans to establish an office in the United States in 2019.

Astroscale was founded in 2013 and has raised four rounds of funding, most recently a $25 million Series C round in July 2017. Its first satellite, a technology demonstration smallsat called IDEA OSG intended to measure the density of orbital debris too small to track from the ground, was lost in a Soyuz launch failure last November.

The company believes that, since its founding, there’s been growing awareness of the problems posed by orbital debris, problems compounded by proposed megaconstellations of hundreds or thousands of communications satellites. Those megaconstellations, though, offer a business model for companies like Astroscale, who can offer services to remove defunct satellites.

“Government officials and the private sector are now ready to support debris removal as a business,” said Nobu Okada, founder and chief executive of Astroscale, in a statement. “This latest round of funding represents a strong vote of confidence in Astroscale’s mission and will allow us to accelerate our position as the global market-leader in the field of debris removal.”

The funding round is the latest sign of growing Japanese interest in entrepreneurial space companies. Another company, lunar lander developer ispace, raised more than $90 million from Japanese investors last December. In March, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe announced plans to establish a fund valued at nearly $1 billion to support the development of space companies in the country.

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...