It’s not as cool as a tractor beam and is probably too small to pull the SS Botany Bay but a start-up firm in Israel claims its robotic space tow truck can do the same job by hooking onto satellites in an orbital ditch and put them back on the right path or on the road to a space junk heap.
Effective Space Solutions Ltd. has designed the “DeOrbiter,” a microsatellite it says will be able to approach a malfunctioning or out-of-orbit satellite, push or pull it into the correct orbit or deliver it to an orbit 300km over the equator that is used as a decommissioned satellite graveyard sometimes referred to as the “graveyard orbit.” If the DeOrbiter were in operation today, it could possibly help the European Union's two Galileo Global Positioning System satellites that were launched this month into the wrong orbit and are currently useless.
The DeOrbiter is classified as a microsatellite because its planned weight is 250 kg which is as much as 1/20th the size of some communications satellites. It will be powered by ion thrusters rather than a chemical thruster system for better control and longer life. To dock with spacecraft that may be oddly shaped, traveling at a high speed or spinning out of control, the DeOrbiter will use Effective Space Solutions’ specially designed grappling system. Control and monitoring would be done at a yet-to-be-built operations center.
To pay back the $25 million it needs to build the DeOrbiter and control center, the company will charge customers a fixed towing fee or take a share of the revenues generated by putting the satellite back in operation.
With the world’s dependency on satellites of all types and functions growing dramatically, the DeOrbiter sounds like a spacecraft that can’t arrive soon enough. Let’s hope Effective Space Solutions can hide it from Khan.