Need a tow … in space? Company looks to get satellites back on course

Is space about to get its own tow-truck service?

Well not exactly, but a new space-bound creation designed by Israel-based Effective Space Solutions is coming close enough. The company's plan is to grab communication satellites lost in space and take them to the appropriate orbit in the hope of extending their lifespan.

The company’s founder and CEO Arie Halsband told that the idea came to him when he learned about the high number of capable satellites sent each year to the “graveyard orbit,” a high-level orbit where satellites are purposely moved at the end of their operational life.

With over 25 years of experience in space technology, Halsband has taken the lead in developing small, high performance, low weight Israeli satellites.

His company has designed a micro-satellite, nicknamed the “De Orbiter” to help with the course corrections.

“The ‘De Orbiter’ will recognize the target communication satellite from a safe distance … [and] will approach in several steps until reaching the docking distance,” said Halsband. “Upon having a confirmation from the ground, the patented docking mechanism will dock the ‘De Orbiter’ to the communication satellite.”

Ion thrusters then move the satellites into the desired orbit.

If an emergency arises during the operation, the 'De Orbiter' can use “emergency stop” thrusters to prevent any damage to the craft.

The company has just started marketing its micro-satellite to potential clients after completing its preliminary design.

Halsband estimates there are currently 300 communication satellites in orbit. Some 20 of those are expected to retire this year and could possibly need the company's service.

He wouldn’t specify exact pricing for using the “De Orbirter” yet, but suggested that “in the aerospace [industry], the cost goes by the weight - as we are much lighter and smaller, we will eventually be much less expensive than [competitors].”

Halsband aims to launch the “De Orbirter” by late 2016 or early 2017.