Een servicesatelliet koppelt zich aan een satelliet © Kurs Orbital
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Kurs Orbital is the name of the company that is developing a pilot spacecraft purely for on-site maintenance of satellites in space. Kurs Orbital is led in part by Volodymyr Usov, the former head of the Ukrainian space agency. He is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics. This is an organization that seeks international cooperation in the advancement of space exploration.

The spacecraft is based on a Russian docking system, which is credited with more than 300 successful dockings in space.

“Our craft is based on the Kurs Rendezvous coupling system. That’s responsible for more than 300 successful landings in space since 1985,” Usov wrote in an email to us. Kurs is a space coupling technology that was, as it happens, developed during the Soviet era. It had an important role in the Russian space program later on. “This helps us to design a maintenance platform for satellites in such a way that we can also clear debris from crucial orbit routes around the Earth.”

Removing space debris

Kurs Orbital is among a growing number of companies that are specializing in satellite maintenance. There is plenty of investment in launch vehicles and satellites, so maintenance could be the next segment of the industry to gain prominence. The market for Active Debris Removal (ADR for short) in space is becoming more important with each passing year as the number of missions continues to increase significantly.

Service satellites

The forerunner is the MEV satellite from American company Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. They launched a service satellite into orbit in 2018 that successfully paired with an Intelsat satellite. MEV is a satellite that is designed to extend the service life of other satellites orbiting around earth. Maintenance includes keeping old satellites in position, removing and repositioning them. According to Northern Sky Research (NSR), a satellite and space market research company, US$3 billion will be spent on ADR over the next decade.

The service craft from Kurs Orbital is expected to be launched in 2023.

Inspection of satellites is also done remotely nowadays.