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Project Fielder: An innovative method of satellite recovery

Company:

SPACE FORGE LIMITED

Space Forge are seeking to drive the next generation of sustainability in the space industry. Whilst the utilisation of space assets and its associated
environment is growing at a significant pace, the ability to do so sustainably is lagging. Currently at their end of life, satellites are either manoeuvred into a
final descent to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere or positioned into a graveyard orbit. Space Forge is developing a low cost and reliable method to return
satellites back to Earth so that they can be maintained, repaired and upgraded.
Satellites currently cost between $100k/kg and $1m/kg to build depending upon the complexity and requirements of the mission, compared to between
$5k/kg and $50k/kg for launch. Most missions end when either the satellite runs out of fuel or a critical component fails leading to severe loss of capability. In
addition, as many missions last multiple years to decades, the biggest issue for a satellite is obsolescence; where older satellites are overtaken by those with
newer components and there are slow degradations due to micrometeorite damage on solar arrays, atomic oxygen erosion of optics and capacity loss in
batteries due to thousands of day/night cycles. What sets satellites apart from other high technologies is the extreme difficulty in providing regular
maintenance, which was complex even when manned rendezvous capabilities like the US Space Shuttle were available. Many companies are working on
methods for in-orbit re-fuelling of satellites but this is unlikely to be economical for anything but the largest satellites due the amount of fuel required for
rendezvous and the complexity of docking. There is no substitute for returning a satellite back to its makers for hands-on maintenance, repair and upgrade;
but this requires a low cost and reliable return to Earth method that does not significantly damage the satellite. Space Forge is developing a return
mechanism for small to medium class satellites to enable the next generation of sustainability in the space industry