22 March 2021


Media Updates, News, Space

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  • RHEA Group is celebrating the launch of Astroscale’s ELSA-d mission after providing the mission control and automation systems at the In-Orbit Servicing Control Centre – National Facility, based at Harwell, UK, for the pioneering inaugural flight.
  • ELSA-d is the first commercial mission to demonstrate the core technologies necessary for space debris docking and removal, a major step towards expanding in-orbit services and achieving safe and sustainable space for the benefit of future generations.

RHEA Group is celebrating the launch of Astroscale’s End-of-Life Service by Astroscale demonstrator (ELSA-d), which launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on 22 March 2021. RHEA has been working closely with Astroscale in the UK since 2018, when it was commissioned to develop the mission preparation, mission control and automation systems located within the -In-Orbit Servicing Control Centre – National Facility, based within the Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell Campus, UK.

ELSA-d consists of two spacecraft, a ‘Servicer’ and a ‘Client’, that successfully launched stacked together. The Servicer, is equipped with proximity rendezvous technologies and a magnetic docking mechanism while the Client, mimicking a defunct satellite, has a magnetic plate that enables docking. The Servicer will repeatedly release and dock with the Client in a series of technical demonstrations, proving the capability to find and dock with debris. Demonstrations include Client search, Client inspection, Client rendezvous and both non- tumbling and tumbling docking.

John Bone, Chief Commercial Officer at RHEA, said, “This is a very exciting moment in history for space debris removal and RHEA is proud to be involved. The RHEA team has worked closely with Astroscale, adapting tried and tested technologies to fit the mission requirements. The team really had to think ‘outside the box’ to meet Astroscale’s challenging requirements to safely monitor and control the spacecraft and to ensure near continuous communication during critical demonstration activities. The RHEA solution was integrated with the mission planning and operations activities providing Astroscale with efficient, automated operations within a highly complex, innovative mission.”

“During the inspection and rendezvous demonstrations, Astroscale’s operations team need to be in almost constant contact with the spacecraft to receive near-real time images and data from ELSA-d,” explained Alberto Fernandez, Head of Ground Systems Engineering. “To respond to this brief, the mission control and automation systems developed by RHEA automates the contacts between the spacecraft and a series of ground stations around the world, to ensure the flow of data during these critical activities. To further simplify operations, RHEA implemented support for our file-based operations that allows a seamless upload and download of files between the ground and the spacecraft,” added Alberto.

Future ELSA satellite missions are planned with the capability to capture and remove up to three defunct satellites in one mission to help to reduce costs of providing a debris removal service for satellite operators.

Press contact

Isabelle Roels

Find out more about the ELSA-d mission:

Image courtesy of GK Launch Services