According to satellite maintenance technology developers, clients in the geostationary orbit and beyond are expected to be interested in refuelling and life extension. In contrast, low Earth orbit operators are looking for end-of-life disposal services.
Businesses and organizations working on different satellite servicing approach stated “they anticipated LEO constellation companies to seek their services to keep their orbits clean during talks at the Global Satellite Servicing Forum, which is a conference hosted by the business sector group Consortium for the Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS).
“When you have operators who do have hundreds, though not thousands, of the satellites orbiting in a really close regime, in which they possess a direct placed interest in maintaining that,” stated Harriet Brettle, who serves as the head of the business analysis at the Astroscale, a company developing satellite servicing as well as disposal technologies.
“If you’re thinking about putting the next fleet up there, ensure you do it in a way that allows you to operate securely and sustainably.” she expects constellation operators to search out end-of-life satellite dumping services to open up orbits for successor satellites. She explained, “That’s really where one can see preserving operational service, guaranteeing that you do have a robust and appropriate usage of that area.”
Trevor Bennett, who is the co-founder of another satellite servicing firm, Starfish Space, agreed. “What we’ll have to accomplish is maintain precise orbits so that constellations will bear the brunt of the pain,” he explained. “The paying consumer isn’t the one who has to dodge a fleck of paint here or a particle of trash there every now and then. It’s the person who has a slew of satellites in orbit and sees the importance in keeping that orbital shell or even the orbital plane in place.”
In addition to constellations, Brettle projected, governments will be consumers of LEO debris removal services for “legacy” debris. For example, Japanese space agency JAXA awarded Astroscale a contract to check a spent rocket (a Japanese) stage left in orbit, with plans to remove the stage later. “It’s a combination of seeking to governments to address the legacy debris issue we see, as well as looking to satellite providers to take accountability for the upcoming orbital environment,” she explained.
Another panelist projected that LEO constellations are unable to be consumers for the satellite life extension or even other servicing. Karl Stolleis, who is the lead for the space robotics as well as logistics at Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate, remarked, “Refuelling in LEO only does make sense under very specific circumstances.” He claimed that the economics of refuelling “proliferated LEO” constellations were unsustainable. “It’s cheaper to create a new satellite, launch it, and then dispose of old one compared how it is to strive to refuel it,” he explained.