According to a Friday story in Space News, insurers of the European Galileo global positioning satellite, two of which were launched into the wrong orbit recently, are talking to a startup Israeli company called Effective Space Solutions about moving them to the correct orbit. The company is developing a satellite called Deorbiter that is designed to move wayward satellites and extend their lives after their fuel runs out. It claims that the first model will be ready in 18 months.
The Deorbiter is a 350 kilogram vehicle that will use an ion engine to perform a variety of tasks involving moving satellites around. One task would be to move dead satellites to a so-called “graveyard orbit” out of the way of operational satellites to reduce the production of space junk. In effect the Israeli vehicle would be a space faring tow truck.
Thus far Effective Space Solutions has invested a modest $1.5 million into its proposed space vehicle. If the insurers decide to go ahead, they will need to come up with the rest of the estimated $25 million development budget, not to mention launch and operations costs. It may well be worth it as the costs of the Galileo system, meant as an alternative to the American GPS system, is in the many billions of euros.
EFS is not the only company that is working on a space tug. Both Canada’s MDA Corp, VivSat of the United States are developing their own models. How far along they are compared to Deorbiter remains to be seen. However these kinds of space tugs are going to serve a growing market for moving existing satellites around in Earth orbit. There are thus far not too many options for dealing with wayward or dead satellites. Vehicles like Deorbiter will provide a much needed solution to the problem.