Industry looks to simplify orbital life-extension vehicle to save money as it investigates financing schemes

The Conexpress orbital life-extension vehicle (CX-OLEV), offered to increase commercial satellites' operational lives, is being redesigned to reduce its development cost. Development of the 1,400kg (3,080lb) vehicle, with a 14m (45.9ft)-span solar array, was costed at €150 million ($190 million), with industry and the European Space Agency each paying 50%.

The Phase A/B preliminary design review was completed in February, and the next step was to have been full development of the vehicle under Phase C/D. But, eight months later, the private financing required by ESA for it to continue its investment has not been put in place. "Industry is investigating various schemes for financing their 50% share of the project," says the agency. "Industry is also looking into simplifying the spacecraft to reduce the cost."

UK company Orbital Recovery is developing the CX-OLEV and last year signed a memorandum of understanding with an undisclosed first customer for a 2009 mission (Flight International, 18-25 October 2005). For €35 million, the CX-OLEV would be launched as a piggyback payload aboard an Ariane 5, manually dock with the target satellite and extend its life for up to eight years by providing propulsion, navigation and guidance.

Orbital Recovery had also expected to reveal new customers by the third quarter of this year, but none has been announced. The company is supported by Dutch Space, Swedish Space, France's Snecma, Spain's Contraves Space and SENER, and German space systems provider Kayser-Threde. ESA is funding CX-OLEV through its ARTES 4 public-private partnership initiative.

German aerospace agency DLR is also working with Kayser-Threde on CX-OLEV as part of its national space programme.

Source: Flight International