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Astroscale opens new UK facility to build world’s first commercial space debris removal spacecraft

3 mins read

Astroscale Limited, the UK and European subsidiary of Astroscale Holdings Inc, a well-known company in satellite servicing and long-term orbital sustainability, has opened its new Zeus satellite manufacturing and operations facilities at the Harwell Science & Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.

The UK space industry is growing rapidly, quadrupling in size since 2000, and with ambitious growth plans over the next 10 years. This new, advanced UK facility will enable Astroscale to build satellite debris removal servicer satellites, and rapidly develop their commercial offering in the coming years, helping to further contribute to the growth, innovation, and manufacturing potential of the UK space sector. 

The move from Astroscale’s previous premises to the new facility, Zeus, marks a 900% increase in space, covering approximately 20,000 square feet to accommodate a high specification satellite manufacturing facility, a satellite operations centre, and offices for 120 staff. 

Astroscale’s new custom built UK headquarters will be at the heart of the Harwell Science & Innovation Campus Space Cluster, close to partners such as the UK Space Agency, European Space Agency (ESA), Satellite Applications Catapult, the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and many space industry partners.

This strategic location will enable Astroscale to lead development of the in-orbit servicing supply chain and commercial servicing economy through creating new jobs, national capability and world-leading facilities in the UK.  

“I am delighted to open our new state-of-the-art UK premises at the Harwell Science Campus today,” said Nobu Okada, founder and CEO of Astroscale. “This facility will support our ambitious growth plans for the UK business, allowing us to work with our partners to drive forward the development of the in-orbit servicing commercial market in the UK. If we act now, we will ensure a sustainable space economy for future generations."

The UK continues to be a leader in both the policy and technology development for space debris removal and sustainability. Recent strategic announcements include the UK National Space Strategy in 2021, the UK Space Agency’s Corporate Plan 2022-25, and more recently the Plan for Space Sustainability (23 June, 2022), which highlight the UK Government’s commitment to build on the UK’s early mover advantage in space robotics and In-Orbit Servicing & Manufacturing (IOSM) to establish global leadership in space sustainability.  

“With nearly 5,000 operational satellites and over 30,000 pieces of trackable debris, the ability to operate safely in space is growing increasingly challenging,” said Dr Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency.

“The UK is leading efforts to make space more sustainable and we’re backing companies, such as Astroscale, to design innovative new missions to clear hazardous space junk. It’s fantastic to see this state of the art facility open, bringing new capabilities to the UK and creating more than 100 jobs at the Harwell Space Cluster.”

In addition, Astroscale has shown its international reach, developed from its roots in Asia (Japan, Singapore), into the UK in 2017, the USA (2019) and Israel (2020). Inward investment and British investment, both government and private sector, will remain critical at this transformational stage of the in-orbit servicing market.  

“We want debris removal and in-orbit servicing to be part of routine operations by 2030. We can only deliver this through working in close partnership with government and industry stakeholders who share our ambition to push the boundaries of innovation and space technology,” said Nick Shave, managing director of Astroscale Limited. “Together we can create an in-orbit economy and new high-value jobs that will ensure space remains safe and sustainable for future generations.”  

“This is transformational moment for us as a fast-growing space business to open our own facilities that will design and manufacture Astroscale debris removal and satellite servicing satellites in the UK,” added Shave.

“We also plan to harness our long-standing partnership with the Satellite Applications Catapult on space mission operations for future in-orbit servicing missions including our ELSA-M multi-client removal servicer, and to evaluate utilisation of the STFC National Space Test Facility at Harwell.

"This is also a milestone moment for Astroscale., as we create a new home for our 120 staff, many of whom will soon start working on the recently announced UK Space Agency Active Debris Removal Mission to remove two defunct satellites from Low Earth Orbit.” 

Astroscale celebrated the completion of its End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission earlier this year. ELSA-d was the world’s first commercial debris removal demonstration mission and proved the magnetic capture technology required for end-to-end Low Earth Orbit satellite servicing. 

Leading on from this success, ESA and the UK Space Agency approved the OneWeb Sunrise Partnership Programme for the continued development of the next Astroscale servicer model, ELSA-M, which will be able to service multiple satellites in one mission.

Set to launch in 2024, ELSA-M will be manufactured and operated from the Zeus building in Harwell, creating a platform to rapidly develop commercial debris removal services for satellite constellation customers committed to developing a responsible and sustainable space economy. 

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