Orbital Recovery agreement covers four missions from 2005 as part of project to extend life of spacecraft

Orbital Recovery has selected the Ariane 5 as the primary launch vehicle for its proposed geosynchronous Spacecraft Life Extension System (SLES). The agreement with Arianespace covers at least four launches from 2005, with the 500-800kg (1,100-1,760lb) space tug being carried as a secondary payload on an Ariane 5 launch.

The SLES is designed to extend the useful lifetime of communications satellites by maintaining their geostationary orbits. Instead of placing a satellite into "graveyard orbit" when its station-keeping fuel runs out at the end of a 10- to 15-year operational lifetime, the SLES would dock with the satellite and provide the propulsion, navigation and guidance to maintain the correct orbital slot for 10 or more years.

The space tug could also be used to rescue satellites stranded in incorrect orbits by launch failures, but a proposal to rescue the Astra 1K satellite, stranded in low-Earth orbit in December after its Russian Proton booster malfunctioned, was turned down by owners SES Astra. Instead the satellite was deorbited.

Orbital Recovery plans its initial launch on an Ariane 5 in the first quarter of 2005, followed by two more SLES flights the same year. The agreement provides for additional launches in 2005 and beyond. Orbital Recovery is still raising financing for the project and last month launched a final funding round to cover three years of operations and the first two SLES missions, which the company says will take it into profitability.

Definition studies are complete, and Orbital Recovery is building an industrial team. Robotic technology from the German DLR research centre has been selected for the SLES docking mechanism and Aon Space is providing insurance brokering and risk management services.

Meanwhile, Arianespace hopes to launch five Ariane 5 missions in 2003, compared with the 12 Ariane 4 and Ariane 5 flights in 2002. As a result, revenues for the year are expected to be $1.08 billion, down from 2002, which saw an operating loss of $48 million. It is likely 2003 will also see a loss, which would be the third in consecutive years, a situation that "cannot continue", says chief executive Jean-Yves Le Gall.


Source: Flight International