Astroscale and ClearSpace have been shortlisted by the United Kingdom for a multi-debris clearance mission

Two teams led by the firms Astroscale and Clearspace have been picked by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) for a mission to remove two spacecraft from low Earth orbit in 2026, the UKSA said on September 26. The U.K. branches of Swiss-based Clearspace and Japanese-based Astroscale have received follow-on contracts worth £4 million ($4.28 million), which is in addition to the cash that was given in October to examine the mission's viability. The statement did not include a partnership led by British small satellite manufacturer SSTL, which had previously received a portion of the $1 million Active Debris Removal Phase 0-A Feasibility Study from the previous year. A preliminary design review will wrap up Phase B, which lasts until October 2023. Details regarding the spacecraft they plan to remove, which had to be launched into orbit with a U.K. license, will be included in this. For what it refers to as its Cleaning Outer Space Mission through Innovative Capture, Astroscale claimed to have discovered a few suitable UK satellites currently in a crowded orbit (COSMIC). The company, which received £1.7 million in funding under phase B, intends to collaborate with Canadian startup NorthStar to collect information on space situational awareness to aid in the selection of qualified applicants. MDA UK, Thales Alenia Space UK, Nammo, GMV-NSL, NORSS, Goonhilly, Satellite Applications Catapult, and Willis Towers Watson are a few of the COSMIC partners. The mission would make use of a variation of the servicer the startup is creating for its End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-multiple (ELSA-m) mission, set to launch in 2024 in collaboration with UKSA, broadband provider OneWeb, and the European Space Agency. Multiple satellites can be deorbited with ELSA-m in a single flight. However, COSMIC would need to deploy robotic technology from its partner MDA to grapple with spacecraft that were not intended to be caught because its capture mechanism relies on magnetic docking plates similar to those on OneWeb satellites. ELSA-d, or End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration, was the project for which Astroscale began executing in-orbit capture and release experiments last year. For the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Astroscale is also competing to extract a rocket's abandoned upper stage (JAXA). To assess the debris, which lacks a docking plate, before a prospective removal attempt a few years down the road, Rocket Lab will launch an Astroscale spacecraft next year. Clearspace proposes to deorbit a portion of a Vega rocket in 2025 as part of a contract with the European Space Agency. ClearSpace's Clearing of the LEO Environment with Active Removal (CLEAR) project received £2.5 million from UKSA. ClearSpace's consortium includes Alden Legal, AstroAgency, Critical Software, Deimos, MDA, Orbit Fab, and Satellite Applications Catapult, in addition to SSTL. Once the designs are finalized next year, UKSA wants to select only one team for additional financing. Separately, the space agency on September 26 issued the first of six funding requests under its new Enabling Technology Program (ETP). Up to £15 million is intended to be made available under the program to promote in-country research and development of cutting-edge technologies, particularly those needed for manufacturing and servicing in orbit.