Saturday, 9 December 2023

For the US, a Japanese startup will create a refueling satellite

  • The US Space Force has awarded $25.5 million to a Japanese firm for the development of refueling satellites.
  • Astroscale made the contract announcement on Friday.
  • Refueling technology is being introduced by the US military to enhance space operations.

The U.S. Space Force has awarded a $25.5 million contract to the Japanese firm Astroscale Holdings to build a satellite that can refuel other satellites in space.

Astroscale, a Tokyo-based business established in 2013 that made the contract announcement on Friday, seeks to offer “on-orbit services,” such as refueling to increase the lifespan of satellites and the cleanup of space trash.

A refueling satellite

The company’s robotic arm-based satellite-grabbing technology is likely to have been among the features valued highly by U.S. Space Systems Command, the leading provider of space capabilities for the U.S. Space Force.

By 2026, the American branch of Astroscale is expected to provide a prototype of its refueling satellite, according to the order. A Japanese private company signing a satellite development contract with the U.S. military is unusual.

Refueling technology is being introduced by the US military to enhance space operations and remove a long-standing limitation on satellite operations and design.

The innovation will improve operational adaptability and on-orbit capabilities, strengthening deterrence and enabling more varied responses to growing threats from enemies’ military space capabilities. It is difficult to refuel satellites in orbit after launch, which causes a lot of them to burn up or end up as space debris.

It is anticipated that the capacity to refuel satellites will help increase their useful lives and decrease space debris. Former Finance Ministry official Nobu Okada, who saw space debris cleanup as a potentially lucrative new commercial opportunity, launched Astroscale.

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