Astroscale is still pushing forward toward the company's mission of sustainable orbits and have completed studies for the Cabinet Office (Japan) and Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to assess Space Situational Awareness (SSA) capabilities and architectures.
What exactly is SSA and why is Astroscale involved?
SSA refers to the tracking of objects in orbit and predicting where they will be at any given time. The data allows users to accurately interpret and characterize the activity of satellites, improving operational safety and reducing the risk of collisions. With increased congestion in orbit, there have been a growing number of commercial and civil use cases for SSA, such as asset investment protection, insurance claims, and safety of flight. Now with active debris removal and in-orbit services missions gearing up, SSA is becoming an important part of operational services.
At Astroscale, work continues toward the launches of the firm's ELSA-d and ADRAS-J missions and get closer to fully operational services, the company is developing a clearer understanding of SSA needs for future servicing missions.
The use of SSA data has been making global headlines recently with the most notable from LeoLabs when they announced a close approach in late January between two large, inactive satellites. It turned out to be an extremely close call, and one with high potential of impact due to the sizes of the defunct satellites. Thankfully, the two objects passed each other and we narrowly missed seeing thousands of new pieces of debris added to our orbits. But the worrying part is that these near-miss events happen all the time. That very same week there were several other close approaches. In other words, we are on borrowed time as our orbits become more crowded.
Benjamin Franklin once stated that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and Astroscale believes this applies perfectly to mitigating space debris. It is necessary to have actionable SSA information, timely de-orbit of satellites that can conduct collision avoidance and removal of larger defunct objects from space before they become thousands of smaller and harder to clean pieces of junk.
Together - SSA (understanding), mitigation (prevention), and remediation (cure) - are key elements of the space sustainability puzzle. The space community should apply these elements in a way that exceeds minimum standard practices, increases transparency among operators, and delivers a sense of urgency.
Astroscale is working on all these pieces of the puzzle for spaceflight safety and orbital sustainability for the benefit of future generations.
Additionally, like the rest of the world, Astroscale has been following the growing COVID-19 pandemic with increasing concern. It is precisely at times like this, when there is so much uncertainty and fear, that it is most necessary for us all to pull together as a community. The global Astroscale family is working to do what it can to reduce the spread of the virus and highlight the importance of connectivity to the future.
In response to the growing pandemic, Astroscale has now temporarily shut down the offices in Japan, the UK, the US and Singapore. The firm's global staff of more than 100 people are now all working from their homes but continuing to stay in close contact. The company is not certain when each of the offices will reopen but will keep all informed as updates occur.
With many of us in self-quarantine, satellite services are taking on increased importance as we not only continue to move our mission forward, but also check in on loved ones virtually, stream movies to pass the time, or monitor the footprint of the coronavirus spread across the globe. Our reliance on space is now greater than ever and one thing is abundantly clear – protecting each other, and maintaining sustainability of orbital services which keep us connected as a global community, is more crucial than ever.
This temporary shutdown will not delay Astroscale as the firm continues to move forward with steps to secure long-term spaceflight safety and orbital sustainability for the benefit of future generations. The company's initial technology demonstration mission, ELSA-d, is still planned for launch in late 2020 and all is on schedule to deliver the spacecraft to the launch site on time.
Stay safe out there everyone and look out for each other.