Spaceships Rescuing Spaceships: Is It A Business?
With all the space junk
floating around the Earth in various orbits, this could become a
big business. Orbital Recovery Ltd. has signed a strategic teaming
agreement with Dutch Space 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.