If you're lost in space and need a tow, look no further
Company claims its tugboat-like micro-satellite can transport wayward satellites back to orbit.
When satellites malfunction, the results can be expensive and irreparable. This was no more evident than this summer, when a communications snag sent two Galileo satellites from Russia into the wrong orbit, rendering them useless.
But fear not: A company called Effective Space Solutions (ESS) has a solution.
ESS's new micro-satellite, called the DeOrbiter, can pinpoint satellites that have floated out of orbit and bring them back. And the company says the process can be done in a much more inexpensive and efficient way than in previous rescue missions.
These wayward satellites cost companies millions of dollars that previously could never be recovered. Rescuing them would cost too much, and eventually they would have to be destroyed. But the Israel-based ESS says it can offer the job at a cheaper cost and salvage the wayward satellites.
"Our satellite will weigh much less and is designed for shorter life than a traditional communication satellite," ESS's founder and CEO, Arie Halsband, told From the Grapevine.
Halsband couldn't elaborate on exactly what went into his satellite's design or who he'll be working with. He did say that he has a "long list" of manufacturers in the U.S. who are interested in collaboration with ESS, "but it is too early to reveal the details."
He said the DeOrbiter is in a transitional phase – the design is complete, and it's gearing up to start actual development and construction. The plan is to launch the first DeOrbiter around late 2016 or early 2017.
"Once the first DeOrbiter is in orbit, we will start service," he said. "Additional DeOrbiters will follow."
He also didn't say whether his company will be hired to rescue the Galileo satellites that went awry.
Satellite maintenance is a relatively new market, but one with increasing demand. U.S.-based Vivisat LLC, like ESS, entered the market offering in-orbit space services to commercial space enterprises. Its so-called Mission Extension Vehicle is still being built, but it's estimated to weigh around 2 tons. ESS's DeOrbiter, however, will weigh about 550 pounds, Halsband said.
He said he and his team conducted thorough market surveys to ensure their contributions to the industry would be valuable and cost-efficient.
Halsband came to ESS after a management-level career in Israel Aerospace Industries. "I felt that commercial space could be made in a different, leaner way," he said. "I was also familiar with the micro-satellites market and their weaknesses."
One of those weaknesses, he said, is "lack of sufficient energy to perform significant commercial missions."
Off-orbit satellites that become unusable turn into space debris, thus becoming a potential danger in space. Normally, these satellites are transported to a space graveyard of sorts and left indefinitely. Halsband said his DeOrbiter obviates that process and allows satellites to be directed to their correct destinations. This would cut down on space debris and allow companies to recoup previously irretrievable expenses.
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