12 February 2024
by Sarah Morgan

£2mln to extend satellite life

A £2mln upgrade has been announced to the UK Satellite Applications Catapult facility in Aylesbury to extend satellite life.

The Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing facility at the Westcott Space Cluster. Image shows the robot tracking equipment, with a target satellite and the Airbus VISPA robotic arm. © Airbus Defence and Space

The In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing (IOSM) site will become the first in the UK capable of verification, validation and demonstration of in-orbit operations, including manufacturing, servicing, inspection, repair and assembly.

The upgrade will support the growing IOSM sector within the UK, providing access to the large-scale equipment needed to replicate orbital conditions and flight dynamics.

This includes expanding the core capabilities to enable dynamic tracking, real-time positioning, a gravity off-load system, and enhancing the orbital simulation environment.

The in-orbit simulation robots will benefit from increased digital twin capabilities, which act as a proxy for the space environment and enable testing in the virtual world.

The IOSM market is reportedly predicted to be worth £11bn globally by 2031.

Three new refuelling feasibility studies will also support the UK’s efforts to lead on space sustainability by demonstrating the ability to refuel the UK national debris removal mission and explore opportunities for refuelling a commercial satellite.

Contracts have been awarded to Astroscale, ClearSpace and Orbit Fab for this research:

  • Astroscale will adapt their existing ‘COSMIC’ debris removal spacecraft to a new refuelling servicer product, partnering with TAS, Airbus Defence & Space, Orbit Fab and GMV.
  • ClearSpace’s ‘REFUEL.ME’ mission extension will draw on its existing ‘CLEAR’ debris removal mission, partnering with Orbit Fab, Satellite Applications Catapult and Know.space.
  • Orbit Fab will leverage its Rapidly Attachable Fuel Transfer Interface (RAFTITM) and the Grappling and Resupply Active Solution for Propellants (GRASP) to develop the ‘RAFTEA’ mission, partnering with MDA, ClearSpace, D-Orbit, and BryceTech.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, says, ‘Tackling space debris and maintaining ease of navigation in space is vital to allowing future exploration and protecting the everyday services we all rely on, from location and financial services to weather forecasting and broadband. 

‘To ensure that long-term sustainability, we are funding new technologies for satellite refuelling, and upgrading this important national facility at Westcott to help bring innovations to market faster, in turn growing our economy.’

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