Commercial space debris removal, China’s space station and ownership of space resources

Astroscale enters the geostationary orbit service market

Astroscale Holdings Co., Ltd., which is engaged in space debris removal, announced the acquisition of the intellectual property and other assets of Effective Space Solutions R&D Ltd, an Israeli satellite life-extension and servicing company. 

With this agreement, Astroscale will expand its business domain to include geostationary orbit services in addition to low orbit services.

ESS has a lot of experience in geostationary orbit missions, and the technology of the Space Drone program, which was previously developed by ESS, is expected to make a significant contribution to satellite life extension services of Astroscale.

Astroscale founder and CEO Mitsunobu Okada said to the media:

“The world is now dependent on services that make use of space technology, and it can be said that coronavirus has made it even more dependent. The idea of ​​Astroscale is to realize the idea of sustainability in space and the acquisition of technology for the service of extending the lifespan of satellites can be said to be a major leap towards achieving that purpose. We look forward to welcoming the members of the Israeli team and realizing our vision together.”

Russia’s state-owned space company, Roscosmos , announced on June 7 that it has obtained a patent for a “net” that cleans large space debris in orbit. SKY Perfect JSAT Co., Ltd., a major satellite communications operator, has also announced that it has begun development of a special satellite that removes debris. As the number of operating satellites increases, more companies will work on debris removal in the future.

Since May, Astroscale has welcomed Inet Inc., an independent data center provider, as a new investor and has begun raising Series E funding .

Momentus announces partnership with UK’s OrbAstro 

Our next topic is also related to on-orbit services. Momentus, a company that provides self described connection services for satellites announced partnership with OrbAstro providing flock management services for constellations of nano satellites. Momentus uses water plasma propulsion to transport satellites to desired positions in space. Momentus provides technology that allows for autonomous and simultaneous positioning for large groups of small satellites. 

Under the agreement, Momentus will fly three cube sats developed by Orb Astro in a joint launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket scheduled for 2021.

Momentus will install OrbAstro Cube Sats on its inter-orbital carrier, Vigoride, and allow it to be transported to higher altitudes by Vigoride after the launch of Falcon9.

OrbAstro’s CubeSat will demonstrate the following:

・Onboard computer that can be equipped with neural network

・Power supply system with 5 times the performance of conventional products

・Compact attitude control system

・KW class thermal control

Momentus CEO Mikhail Kokorich made the following comments regarding the deal:

“We are excited to see OrbAstro working on developing key technologies that could really enable flocks of satellites to be in close proximity to each other. In the future, this technology may enable Momentus to do rendezvous and proximity operations for refueling, satellite servicing, repositioning and more.”

We are very excited to learn that OrbAstro is working on a technology that will allow them to coordinate a large number of satellites. In the future, this technology may help in refuelling satellites. It may be possible to perform rendezvous operation for maintenance and relocation of tracks.

An on-orbit services industry that has increased in number of players in recent years. We continue to pay attention to this market, which is expected to grow rapidly in the future.

Details of China’s space station revealed

The Chinese Manned Space Agency (CMSA), which recently completed a test flight on a manned spacecraft, announced the details and launch schedule of its own space station “Tiangong”.

According to Chinese news media, Tiangong will be completed by the end of 2022 and will orbit the earth at an altitude of 340-450 km. Tiangong will be in operation for at least 10 years, and science and technology experiments and applied research experiments by commercial players will be conducted on board. Also, 3 astronauts will be able to stay for 6 months.

Tiangong is T-shaped with the core module “Tianhe” in the center and two laboratory modules on each side. The astronaut’s residential area and the ground-based communication center will be located in the core module. The weight of each module is about 20 tons, and the total weight of the space station seems to be 66 tons.

The construction of Tiangong is on a fairly fast schedule. CMSA plans 11 launches in the period of two years from the beginning of 2021 to fully assemble the station.

After the basic building modules of Amamiya are assembled, the space telescope “Xuntian” will be launched and connected to Amamiya. Xuntian is a 2m caliber space telescope with the same resolution as the Hubble telescope, but the viewing angle seems to be 300 times that of the Hubble telescope.

CMSA also announced that in July 2020, up to 18 new Chinese astronauts will be selected. The selection of Chinese astronauts has been carried out twice in the past, and both were selected from the PLAAF, the Chinese air force organization. However, this time the selection will be not only from PLAAF, but also from civilians with scientific and engineering background.

In recent years, China has also increased the number of space ventures and is focusing on the space business.

Northrop Grumman received order for residential module design for lunar orbit station.

On June 2, NASA elected Northrop Grumman for the development of the initial manned module (Habitation and Logistics Outpost, HALO) of the lunar orbital base.

Northrop Grumman is mostly known from the defense sector. The contract value is 187 million dollars including functional requirement definition and system specification design review. It will be completed by the end of 2020.

“HALO is a key component of the Artemis program and facilitates lunar exploration for future manned Mars missions,” said NASA Secretary Jim Bridenstein.

In May 2019, Maxar Technologies was selected for the development of Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), which provides power and communication to HALO.

HALO and PPE are the first components of the station and will be launched simultaneously in 2023. According to NASA, transportation service providers will be selected by the end of 2020.

Launch date for Perseverance already established

NASA’s next-generation Mars exploration rover “Perseverance” will be launched on July 17, as scheduled.

Perseverance will be launched by ULA Atlas V and will land in February 2021 at Jezero Crater, where the lake was believed to have existed. The mission is to investigate the traces of life and analyze the geology.

In addition, the H-IIA rocket will launch the Mars probe “HOPE” of the Dubai Government Space Agency on July 15. 

Progress on new bill on ownership of space resources

On June 2, Liberal Democratic Party’s Special Committee on Space and Ocean Development put together the outline of a bill recognizing ownership of resources mined by private companies on the moon.

In 2015, the United States, and then in 2017, Luxembourg enacted legislation granting ownership of resources mined by private companies on the moon. In Japan as well, from around 2018, experts’ meetings were held with a view to enacting new laws, and discussions have proceeded.

The “Space Treaty”, which sets out the basic principles for exploration and utilization of outer space and celestial bodies, states that no nation can claim their sovereignty.

On the other hand, the International Institute of Space Law (IISL), which is composed of world-class space law scholars, published a paper arguing that ownership of space resources cannot be denied.

In Japan, Ispace, a Japanese space venture that plans to mine resources on the moon in the future, will land a lander and conduct lunar resource exploration in 2021 and 2023. Legislation is urgently needed in order to promote the participation of private companies and to not lose control of the lunar resource development.