The Astroscale team has made excellent progress addressing the anomalies experienced that occurred in January during the ELSA-d Autonomous Capture demonstration, with most issues either resolved or mitigated.
However, there remains one issue that has not been resolved: four of the servicer’s eight thrusters have experienced technical difficulties and are now non-functional. This has impacted the company’s ability to perform a capture of the client as planned for in this demonstration.
With safety always paramount, the Astroscale team has used a complex mix of burns with the remaining thrusters, aerodynamic drag and the natural perturbations of Earth’s gravity to bring the servicer safely back to a distance where operations can continue. These steps have been challenging and are unprecedented — progress has been made toward the goal of gaining as much experience and learning as possible for future on-orbit servicing missions and services.
With this in mind, the company is planning for a controlled close approach in the near future and the plan is to maneuver the servicer to a distance of 160 meters from the client and validate the ability of the servicer’s low power radio sensor to detect and track the client, effectively enabling a transition from absolute to relative navigation. Success in this demonstration would be an important advancement for rendezvous and proximity operations, especially under more challenging circumstances than had been planned. Astroscale then plans to maneuver the servicer away from the client to a safe distance while the potential for a safe and viable recapture plan is analyzed.
ELSA-d’s recent and upcoming operations are building on the significant progress already made with the Test Capture that was successfully completed on August 25, 2021. The firm’s autonomous relative station keeping was successfully demonstrated in January.
Over the course of this groundbreaking mission, the company is learning valuable lessons about satellite servicing operations in space. Astroscale customers can be confident that those lessons will be applied to all future missions and services as the company paves the way to a more sustainable, orbital environment.