Space Defence Committee Call for Evidence: Astroscale Ltd response

Organisation Introduction

Astroscale is the first private company with a vision to secure the safe and sustainable development of space for the benefit of future generations, and the only company dedicated to on-orbit servicing across all orbits. Founded in 2013, Astroscale is developing innovative and scalable solutions across the spectrum of on-orbit servicing missions, including Life Extension (LEX), In-situ Space Situational Awareness (ISSA), End-of-Life (EOL) services, and Active Debris Removal (ADR), as well as strong interest in supporting infrastructure such as SSA and ground-segments, to create sustainable space systems and mitigate the growing and hazardous build-up of debris in space. Astroscale is defining business cases and working with government and commercial stakeholders to develop norms, regulations, and incentives for the responsible use of space.

Astroscale has a growing team of over 200 people, 75% of whom are engineers and all of whom have a passion to secure sustainability in space. Headquartered in Japan, Astroscale has an international presence with subsidiaries in the United Kingdom (Astroscale Ltd), the United States, Israel, and Singapore. Astroscale is a rapidly expanding venture company, working to advance safe and sustainable growth in space and solve a growing environmental concern.

Astroscale ensures it is at the forefront of global discussions relating to in-orbit services and engaged with the customer community through several key forums. Astroscale currently chairs the UK Space In-Orbit Servicing and Manufacturing Working Group (IOSM), as well as actively contributing to the Security and Defence Committee (SDC). The IOSM working group invites all key UK players in the IOS market to work together towards growth of the IOS market, such as UK Space Agency InnovateUK, Airbus, MDA, TAS, OneWeb. Astroscale is also part of the executive committee for the Consortium for Execution of Rendezvous and Servicing Operations (CONFERS), aimed to defining policy for Rendezvous and Proximity Operations (RPO) and on-orbit servicing (OOS).

The company has regularly used its expertise on to support several international events. Astroscale has also been invited to speak at the United Nations several times, including UNISPACE-50 in June 2018 in Vienna, and subsequently on behalf of the UK delegation at the 2021 COPUOUS STSC. Astroscale has also been invited to support and speak at the Interagency Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) as well as the Wilton Park Conference “Operating in space: towards developing protocols on norms of behaviours”. Astroscale’s CEO, Nobu Okada, is currently Vice President of the International Astronautics Federation (IAF), Co-chair of the Future of Space Technologies Council at World Economic Forum, and Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society (FRAeS).

Evidence

The UK has demonstrated space policy leadership at an international level with the work done at UN level in promoting responsible and sustainable behaviours in space by both commercial and state satellite operators. Continuing this effort is essential in mitigating the risk of misunderstanding or miscalculation in space, and this must be done through strategic work with our allies to coordinate and convince others.

 

Sovereign defence capabilities can be considered in several different ways, from a UK only supply chain to the independent freedom to act unilaterally in operational environments. It is clearly important for UK space systems and assets to not be unnecessarily restricted by constraints on the supply chain, but at the same time is not overly costly or restrictive. Of course, the freedom to act and make decisions independently always requires some minimal sovereign operational capability.

Space Situational awareness (SSA) is critical to understanding the space environment in which we operate and the decisions that need to be made. Having access to SSA information, regardless of how that information is procured, is essential. Developing a new, complete sovereign SSA capability from scratch is likely to be extremely expensive. One approach would be to attempt to add value to existing allied capabilities, maximising the overall capability that the UK would have access to whilst keeping costs manageable. Through assessment of SSA capability gaps, this could include dedicated unique analysis capability, or bespoke, novel sensors, particularly from the beneficial use of space-based sensors. Investing in and taking advantage of these capabilities will help propel strategic UK capabilities forward and make us a valuable member of the increasingly capable allied space community. The flexible use of new demonstration and commercial missions, such as Active Debris Removal and Life Extension, by using onboard SSA sensors to support the UK capability, should be considered when developing a road-map for a sovereign UK SSA capability. Another approach would be to consider the development of a collaborative space-based demonstration and/or operational SSA capable satellite system via a partnership with an allied nation (For example, the USA and/or Japan under the recent DSTL/UKSA/JAXA MoU or Australia via the SpaceBridge)  which would involve joint funding and joint exploitation.

 

ISR capabilities could be part of a more general space-based imaging approach leveraging UK launch and small-satellite capability. This of course depends on what Space-Command consider as the minimal capability requirement for ISR, and whether small-sats with mass/power constrained payloads can meet them. However, continued govt funding in to space-based imaging payloads, exploration of flexible imaging payloads that can image space and/or ground or distributed systems of UK satellite systems (not just constellations) will likely provide new avenues to cost-effective ISR that the UK can leverage.

 

 

The emergent governance structures for space policy across Whitehall and within MOD seems to provide what was lacking previously in terms of an overall UK space approachIt is important to ensure that the objectives, which will invariably be different, of MOD and non-MOD (BEIS, UKSA, DfT) are appropriately coordinated so as to avoid divergence in the UK space strategic intent and capability  As the strategy and governance mature there needs to be oversight to ensure UK as a whole benefits and synergies are realised.

The release of the National Space Strategy would be seen as the most important piece of tangible progress towards a clear policy.

 

Without a doubt, as space becomes busier with far more novel capabilities and missions, both national and commercial, ensuring SSA (and SDA) will become more important than ever, and so having reliable access to those capabilities is important. As these capabilities are almost certainly dual-funded by civilian and military organisations (e.g. NSpOC) access and cooperation with industry, and particularly UK space operators, is essential.