US company aims to base life-extension system on Dutch multimission concept

Orbital Recovery has signed an agreement to use a concept developed by Dutch Space as the basis of its planned satellite life-extension system. The Dutch company's ConeXpress ORS (orbital recovery system) vehicle is based on the Ariane 5 payload adaptor, which will be equipped with ion propulsion and guidance electronics and released from the launcher to operate independently as a space tug.

Lieden-based Dutch Space (formerly Fokker Space) has been studying the ConeXpress multi-mission platform concept under European Space Agency (ESA) sponsorship. It plans to seek ESA funding to complete detailed design of the orbital recovery system between January and July next year. Full-scale development is planned to run from mid-2004 to early 2007, and could be funded under a public-private partnership.

Washington DC-based Orbital Recovery plans a demonstration mission in 2007 that will involve the ConeXpress ORS rendezvousing with a target satellite. This is two years later than previously planned. The mission would be followed by two commercial flights in 2007 and three a year thereafter. The company signed an agreement with Arianespace in February covering at least four Ariane 5 launches, beginning early in 2005.

In Dutch Space's baseline small-satellite application, the ConeXpress would take six months to reach geostationary orbit (GEO) on one ion engine. For the ORS mission, this will be reduced to "a few months". Once attached to the target spacecraft, the space tug would use the same ion propulsion system to extend the operational life of a commercial GEO communications satellite by five to 10 years, says Orbital Recovery.

The ConeXpress ORS weighs 1.1t, half of which is xenon fuel, compared with 200kg (440lb) for the now-empty payload adaptor, the composite structure for which is supplied by EADS Casa. On Ariane 5 dual-satellite launches, only the lower payload adaptor would be replaced by a ConeXpress.

Dutch Space says Arianespace is projecting an average 10-20% unused payload capacity on future commercial geostationary transfer orbit launches, providing regular opportunities and attractive pricing for ConeXpress flights.

Orbital Recovery is completing negotiations on a strategic financing round that is intended to bring other experienced industrial partners on to the programme.

Source: Flight International