Astroscale Struggling with Non-functional Thrusters on Orbital Debris Capture Mission

The ELSA-d satellite servicer and client launched March 2021, the team prepares to demonstrate the servicer’s technology and capability to remove the Client debris from this summer. Credit: Astroscale)

TOKYO (Astroscale PR) — Our team has made excellent progress addressing the anomalies experienced starting in January during the ELSA-d Autonomous Capture demonstration, with most issues either resolved or mitigated. However, there remains one issue that we have not been able to resolve: four of the servicer’s eight thrusters have experienced technical difficulties and are now non-functional. This has impacted our ability to perform a capture of the client as planned for in this demonstration.

With safety always paramount, our team has used a complex mix of burns with the remaining thrusters, aerodynamic drag, and the natural perturbations of Earth’s gravity to bring the servicer safely back to a distance where we can continue with operations. These steps have been challenging and are unprecedented, but we continue to make progress toward our goal of gaining as much experience and learning as possible for future on-orbit servicing missions and services. 

With this in mind, we are planning for a controlled close approach in the near future. We plan to maneuver the servicer to a distance of 160m from the client and validate the ability of the servicer’s low power radio sensor to detect and track the client, effectively enabling a transition from absolute to relative navigation. Success in this demonstration would be an important advancement for rendezvous and proximity operations, especially under more challenging circumstances than planned. We then plan to maneuver the servicer away from the client to a safe distance while we analyze the potential for a safe and viable recapture plan.

ELSA-d’s recent and upcoming operations are building on the significant progress we already made with our Test Capture, successfully completed on August 25, 2021, and with our autonomous relative station keeping, successfully demonstrated in January. Over the course of this groundbreaking mission, we are learning valuable lessons about satellite servicing operations in space. Our customers can be confident that we will apply these lessons to all our future missions and services as we pave the way to a more sustainable orbital environment.

We will provide an update on the outcome of our client search demonstration as soon as possible. Thank you for your support! #GoELSAd