Swiss Start-up Studying Satellite Refueling for UK

Image: ClearSpace

The UK Space Agency has tapped in-orbit servicing start-up ClearSpace to research satellite refueling, taking a step toward the British agency’s commitment last fall to invest in space sustainability. 

The Switzerland-based company, which already has a contract with the UK government for a space debris removal mission, will conduct a feasibility study to understand how satellite refueling in orbit could work.

The details: The contract will produce an initial design of a servicer satellite by September. The plan is for the servicer spacecraft to refuel the UK National Debris Removal Mission, on which ClearSpace is also planning to bid. 

The project, named REFUEL.ME, will also study the market potential for satellite refueling

technologies, ClearSpace said in a statement.

US-based in-orbit refueling company OrbitFab is also working on the project, along with the UK Satellite Applications Catapult and consultant firm

Reduce, re-use: The UK Space Agency wants the project’s servicer satellite to be able to refuel multiple satellites, extending their lifetimes and helping reduce the junk left in orbit.

“Until recently, satellites have been designed as one-shot items: non-refuellable with mission lifespans coming to an end when the satellite can no longer maneuver effectively,” Ray Fielding, head of space sustainability at the UK Space Agency, said in a statement. “This funding shows the UK Space Agency is…demonstrating leadership in more sustainable space operations.”

Dollar signs: ClearSpace didn’t specify the value of the contract, but said the funding is part of the UK Space Agency’s £2M ($2.5M) investment in space sustainability, including satellite refueling. 

What’s next: ClearSpace is also building the ClearSpace-1 mission for ESA that will attempt to remove an upper stage of Europe’s Vega rocket from LEO in 2026.

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