Towards a More Sustainable Space: Robots in Extreme Environments

When we think of making our world more sustainable, space often gets overlooked. However, with over 8000 tonnes of space debris floating around up there, it’s an important point to consider- how can we make a more sustainable space environment? And what part can robotics play?

Astroscale, along with the Sat Apps Catapult and other space organisations have come up with a novel way of cleaning up.


What is Space Debris?

Space debris consists of all the things we’ve launched into space and are now of no use. This includes old, defunct satellites and pieces of metal and glass.

Why is it a Problem?

The main issue with the growing amount of space debris is the risk of satellites colliding. We rely on satellites for so many of our day to day activities, including;

  • Communications
  • Internet
  • GPS
  • Financial transactions
  • Disaster monitoring
  • Weather prediction

If these vital satellites become damaged, this could leave us without access to these services down on Earth. Disruption to internet connectivity, financial systems and disaster planning could have major repercussions across the globe.


So, What’s the Solution?

To remedy this problem, there are currently two possible solutions;

  1. To clear up current space debris, we can bring back defunct satellites to be burnt up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
  2. We can make sure future satellites are prepared for removal in advance.

Astroscale have come up with an innovative way to prepare future satellites for removal by mounting docking plates onto satellites, allowing them to be easily captured and removed from space.


How Astroscale Is Helping Businesses in the Space Industry

Out of an estimated 12,000 satellites expected to be launched over the next 10 years, around 5% of them will become defunct. This means there will be an increasing amount of space debris to be collected and removed.

Astroscale’s technology allows businesses to manage their responsibility to space and sustainability more easily, by providing a way of retrieving failed satellites.

This initiative is a collaborative venture, between Astroscale, the Sat Apps Catapult and various space agencies including the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency.


Who are Astroscale?

Astroscale’s mission is to secure orbital sustainability through Active Debris Removal (ADR). The company was founded in 2013 by IT entrepreneur Nobu Okada.


Who are Sat Apps Catapult?

The Satellite Applications Catapult are a technology and innovation company helping the UK harness the power of satellites. Connecting industry and academia, this Innovate UK funded centre helps companies bring their ideas to commercial reality through funding and support.

For this project, the centre is providing UK organisations with specialist facilities for in-orbit satellite servicing. This means companies can have an easier start in the space industry without having to invest in their own high-tech facilities.


Robotics for a Safer World: The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

This project is part of the ‘Robots for a Safer World’ Industrial Strategy challenge fund. This challenge explores how robotics and AI can create safer working environments across a range of sectors. Industries as wide ranging as nuclear, offshore wind, deep mining and space could benefit from these new technologies.

£93 million is being invested into research developing robots that can be sent into extreme environments, so people don’t have to.


Who Are Enterprise Europe Network?

Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) help connect businesses with relevant partners to help launch innovative ideas and make them a reality.

To discover current partnership opportunities available with satellite companies, head to the EEN website.