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Harwell Campus company secures license to begin decluttering space

The Business Magazine article image for: Harwell Campus company secures license to begin decluttering space
15 March 2021

The world's first commercial mission to begin to declutter space is scheduled for this Saturday (March 20).

Harwell Campus-based Astroscale's End-of-Life Services  demonstration (ELSA-d) mission has been licenced by the UK Space Agency. The ELSA-d launch, scheduled for Saturday, March 20 2021, will mark the world’s first commercial mission to demonstrate the core technologies and capabilities necessary for space debris docking and removal.

According to NASA, more than 23,000 orbital debris larger than 10 cm are known to exist. As of January 1, 2020, the amount of material orbiting the Earth exceeded 8,000 metric tons.

Astroscale is the first private company aiming to secure the safe and sustainable development of space for the benefit of future generations. Headquartered in Japan, Astroscale has an international presence with subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, the United States, Israel. and Singapore.

The ELSA-d mission presents a leading test case for licensing for future missions undertaking complex rendezvous operations in space, such as active debris removal. This licence approval by the UK marks an important regulatory advancement that places the UK Space Agency at the forefront of global licensing for in-orbit services and manufacturing (IOSM) missions.

The UK Space Agency has issued the space licences under the UK Outer Space Act for both the ELSA-d servicer and client spacecraft. This is the first time, the UK Space Agency has licensed a company for an In-Orbit Service / End of Life demonstration space mission which involves close proximity and docking operations of two lower Earth orbit spacecrafts.

Careful oversight and due diligence have enabled the ELSA-d mission to proceed to launch next week, whilst safeguarding the UK Government requirements. It is hoped this licence will pave the way for planned future Astroscale missions scheduled to deliver end-of-life and active debris removal services.

This precedent should also assist other in-orbit servicing space industry partners, both in the UK and internationally, to apply for licences under UK legislation and regulation.

Kumar Singarajah, Director of Government and Regulatory Affairs, Astroscale UK said: “This UK licence approval for the ELSA-d mission operations is an important milestone in support of Astroscale’s active debris removal commercial endeavours. This licence also positions the UK government as a global leader in support of commercially innovative in-orbit servicing programmes designed to safeguard the sustainable use of space. We would like to express our appreciation to the UK Space Agency for their highly professional, thorough and timely review process.”

John Auburn, Managing Director of Astroscale UK and Co-Chair of the UKspace In-orbit services and manufacturing (IOSM) working group said: "In-orbit servicing and manufacturing capabilities are fundamental to long term space sustainability. Without effective in-orbit servicing and manufacturing, space risks being over-exploited and under-managed, to the detriment of everyone. The support of the UK Space Agency is vital to help drive forward the changes needed in our regulatory and licensing approaches on space safety both in the UK and internationally. A successful ELSA-d mission will be a significant step towards providing Astroscale services to customers in a thriving space economy and boost global efforts to ensure a sustainable space ecosystem for future generations.’

The UK Space Agency confirmed that the ELSA-d mission licences came into effect on March 8.


Nicky Godding is editor of The Business Magazine. Before her journalism career, she worked mainly in public relations moving into writing when she was invited to launch Retail Watch, a publication covering retail and real estate across Europe.

After some years of constant travelling, she tucked away her passport and concentrated on business writing, co-founding a successful regional business magazine. She has interviewed some of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs who have built multi-million-pound businesses and reported on many science and technology firsts.

She reports on the region’s thriving business economy from start-ups, family businesses and multi-million-pound corporations, to the professionals that support their growth and the institutions that educate the next generation of business leaders.

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