ClearSpace secures UKSA satellite refuelling contract

Posted on 21 February, 2024 by Advance 

ClearSpace has secured a contract with the UK Space Agency to investigate the feasibility of an in-orbit satellite refuelling mission, an exciting new market for in-orbit services.

Above: Artistic impression of the REFUEL.ME servicer approaching a satellite for refuelling.
© ClearSpace

The REFUEL.ME study, which will run until September 2024, will involve the establishment of the key mission requirements and the definition of the mission concept of operations, leading to an initial design of the servicer satellite and a review of the sizeable market potential. Ultimately, the selected servicer will first refuel the UK National Debris Removal Mission, for which ClearSpace is also developing a concept, before continuing to refuel other commercial satellites.

Enabling satellite lifetimes to be extended in this manner, ensures such valuable assets can be retained for longer, reducing the frequency of replacement and aiding the reduction of further space debris generated by defunct satellites.

ClearSpace continues is in the vanguard of in-orbit services provision. Their rapidly growing UK subsidiary is currently fully engaged in developing the CLEAR Spacecraft for the UK National Debris Removal mission and brings significant experience and expertise in this area.

The opportunity to utilise existing developments, particular key technologies synonymous across different in-orbit services, maximises value by leveraging the UK’s previous investment into active debris removal, in-orbit services and refuelling interfaces.

With a goal to deliver future commercial refuelling services, ClearSpace is teaming up with key industry partners to form a UK-based consortium with specialised expertise. OrbitFab brings their pioneering expertise in refuelling systems, Satellite Applications Catapult has extensive experience in validating complex Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) in their dedicated testing facility and is an industry provider of commercial and economic analysis.

Rory Holmes, ClearSpace UK Managing Director said: “ClearSpace is committed to making humanity’s space operations sustainable. The funding received from the UK Space Agency to establish our national refuelling capabilities, to extend the lives of satellites in-orbit, represents a joint ambition for the UK to be at the forefront of the emerging in-orbit servicing market.”

“We are honoured to continue working closely with the UK Space Agency and our industrial partners, to utilise the wealth of knowledge and expertise available in the UK to develop our concept for a state-of the-art mission that will not only become an indispensable service in the future but will also help to mitigate the growing issue of space debris.”

Ray Fielding, Head of Space Sustainability at the UK Space Agency said: ”Until recently, satellites have been designed as one-shot items: non-refuellable with mission lifespans coming to an end when the satellite can no longer manoeuvre effectively. This funding shows the UK Space Agency is leading work to develop UK capabilities in performing in-orbit tasks, such as refuelling and demonstrating leadership in more sustainable space operations.”

The UK Space Agency has invested £2 million for UK industry to research and develop refuelling missions through a set of feasibility studies. The funding will allow industry experts to develop new technologies to refuel satellites in space, leading to extended mission lifetimes, reduced waste and debris and more economical use of vital orbital assets. This investment is another significant step towards a cleaner, safer and more sustainable future for space exploration.