The spacecraft rescue concept evolved by Orbital Recovery Ltd. becomes ConeXpress ORS in joint program with Dutch Space

Paris, France; Leiden, Holland; Washington, D.C., November 25, 2003  Orbital Recovery Ltd. today signed a strategic teaming agreement with Dutch Space of Leiden Holland to develop a space tug for use in rescuing satellites stranded in orbit and extending the operational lifetimes of other telecommunications spacecraft.

Dutch Space was selected by Orbital Recovery Ltd. to develop and build its ConeXpress ORS (Orbital Recovery System) vehicle, based on hardware already produced for the European Ariane 5 launcher.

When operational, ConeXpress ORS will serve as an orbital “tugboat”  supplying the propulsion, navigation and guidance to maintain a telecommunications satellite in its proper orbit for years beyond normal fuel depletion.

The primary mission of ConeXpress ORS will be to prolong the in-service life of expensive geostationary orbit telecommunications satellites, which today are junked when their on-board fuel supply runs out. ConeXpress ORS also can be used to rescue spacecraft that have become stranded during orbital positioning maneuvers.

Orbital Recovery Ltd. selected Dutch Space to produce the ConeXpress ORS after performing an international survey of space hardware manufacturers. 

In a unique approach to spacecraft development, Dutch Space will build the ConeXpress ORS based on a payload adapter that is used on every mission of the Ariane 5 launcher. This allows flight-proven hardware to serve as the structure for ConeXpress ORS, and opens regular launch opportunities for the space tug on Ariane 5. 

Dutch Space has been working for some time on evolving the Ariane 5 payload adapter unit into a self-propelled spacecraft  pursuing this conceptual work under a program supported by the European Space Agency. 

Dutch Space’s self-propelled spacecraft concept was designated ConeXpress  a name that refers to the truncated cone shape of the Ariane 5 payload adapter unit. The adapter serves as an interface between Ariane 5 and its commercial satellite payloads, with the satellite mounted atop the unit. 

In its current utilization, the adapter unit is empty inside. For its operation as ConeXpress ORS, the adaptor will be equipped with ion propulsion system and guidance/flight control electronics.

ConeXpress ORS will continue to serve as a payload adapter for Ariane 5 missions, and once the satellite atop it has been successfully deployed in flight, the vehicle will be released from the launcher to begin its own mission as an independent space tug.

“We are very pleased to team up with Dutch Space, which is recognized worldwide for its extensive space experience,” Walt Anderson, Orbital Recovery Ltd.’s Chairman, said. “By combining our SLES concept with Dutch Space’s ConeXpress design, we will have an extremely cost-efficient and flexible spacecraft with a built-in launch opportunity on every Ariane 5 mission.”

The first flight of ConeXpress ORS is targeted for 2007, and Orbital Recovery Ltd. anticipates the market requirement for several commercial missions of the space tug each year.

“ConeXpress enables a better use of the Ariane launcher.  As a space tug, it also enables the better use of communication satellites,” said Dutch Space President and CEO Ben Spee. “In this teaming with Orbital Recovery Ltd., two very good ideas are combined into a single excellent application.”

ConeXpress ORS is designed to easily mate with all telecommunications spacecraft now in space or on the drawing boards.  After launch, the space tug will rendezvous with the target telecommunications satellite, approaching it from below for docking.  ConeXpress ORS will link up with the satellite using docking and robotic technology developed in cooperation with Germany’s DLR Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics.  Aon Space is providing insurance brokering and risk management services to Orbital Recovery Ltd. for the program.

Orbital Recovery Ltd. is an international company with its main office in London, England.  More information on Orbital Recovery Ltd. is available on the company’s Web site:  High-resolution images of the ConeXpress ORS are posted in the Web site’s Images section.

For additional details on Dutch Space, see the company’s Web site at:

Press & media contact:

Jeffrey Lenorovitz, The InfoWEST Group
U.S. tel: +1 703 560-6330
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Click on image to enlarge. All images copyright Orbital Recovery or Dutch Space as noted. Reproduced with permission.

The ConeXpress ORS is depicted here after being released into space
by an Ariane 5.

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On approach towards an orbiting satellite, the ConeXpress ORS is poised to carry out its mission.
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The ConeXpress ORS, docked with the telecommunications satellite.
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Mechanical drawing of The ConeXpress ORS.
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Mechanical drawing of The ConeXpress ORS.
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Mechanical drawing of The ConeXpress ORS.
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