Astroscale closes new funding to grow in-space maintenance and orbital debris cleanup technology

by Ana Lopez

Astroscalea company developing technology for servicing satellites and clearing orbital debris has closed a new round of funding and expanded its investor pool to include a space-enthusiastic billionaire and a major Japanese manufacturing multinational.

The Series G round comes in at more than $76 million, bringing the company’s total funding to date to $376 million. The new investors include Yusaku Maezawa, the billionaire behind the private spaceflight project “dearMoon” and the first private Japanese citizen to visit the International Space Station, as well as Mitsubishi Electric, Mitsubishi UFJ Bank, Mitsubishi Corporation, Development Bank of Japan and FEL Corporation.

Separately, Astroscale also announced a new partnership with Mitsubishi Electric to jointly develop and manufacture satellite buses for Japanese national security constellations. The buses will be fitted with an Astroscale docking plate, so that the buses can be docked and moved in the event that they cannot move out of their orbit at the end of their life.

Astroscale is developing a range of technologies under the umbrella of in-orbit service. That includes developing spacecraft capable of rendezvousing with and docking with other spacecraft; once docked, the Astroscale spacecraft could perform maintenance to extend the life of satellites or safely deorbit spacecraft and other pieces of “junk” that crowd low Earth orbit.

The company launched the End-of-Life Services by Astroscale (ELSA-d) demonstrator system in March 2021, which successfully demonstrated the magnetic capture and release of another spacecraft by a 175 kilogram spacecraft. Shortly after that maneuver, however, the maintenance spacecraft began experiencing problems with its thrusters; Astroscale released its final mission update in September 2022, noting that the two satellites continued to orbit separately and that it was “finalizing the next steps for the mission.”

Astroscale also plans to launch another debris removal demonstration project, as part of a contract with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. That project, Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan (ADRAS-J), which will eventually extract and attempt to remove a rocket second stage from orbit, will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket sometime this year.

The space junk problem has received increasing attention in recent years due to the sharp increase in the number of satellites launched into orbit. There are millions of pieces of space junk in low Earth orbit. The larger debris, such as defunct satellites and rocket second stages, is tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command. But there are probably tens of millions more objects smaller than 1 centimeter that are not currently tracked by any company or government.

“The world depends on satellites more than ever, so if the orbital environment is disrupted or becomes unusable, our lives will change irrevocably,” Astroscale CEO and founder Nobu Okada said in a statement.

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