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Guest: Chris Blackerby; Topics: Astroscale debris removal and life extension for orbit and space hardware, satellites, spent launchers and more, plus reports on the company demos in process and planned for realizing commercial operations in the near future.
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We welcomed Chris Blackerby of Astroscale Japan back to the show to discuss the company progress since March 2019 which is when Chris was last on the show. Our discussion started with Chris talking about changes since March 2019, including the work environment due to Covid. He started with the ELSA-d demo which was back then a mission being planned. ELSA-d, or the End-of-Life Services completed its first technical in-orbit demo as of August 25 of this year. Chris talked at length about this demo/mission.
Let me add this to the discussion. Alison, who is with Astroscale in Japan, did an amazing job in helping to set up this program by summarizing Astroscale missions and talking points for me to work with during the program. As it turned out, her summary was an almost perfect in order as it happened discussion summary. Alison has agreed to let me post her Astroscale talking point to the blog which I have already done. My own summary of the program will focus on listener calls and questions and items not covered by her talking points. You will find the document already uploaded to this blog page as a PDF document. Please consider it to be a significant and essential part the summary of this show.
Chris also talked about their capture and release programs for demos, their full technology, the use of magnets to catch debris plus the use of docking plates. Chris addressed legal and liability issues for grabbing orbital debris which is governed by treaties and other in place regulations. Listen carefully to how he addressed the legal and liability issues. He said it was complicated and required lots of work with different legal systems, companies and cultures around the world. Chris was asked if their catch and release program or when operational, catch and deorbit program, would work for existing satellites and debris. He said probably not as items would need fittings on them to be captured or docked with so the hope or expectation would be newly launched items would be equipped for this type of end of life disposal. Dealing with the existing would require something else for capturing and disposal.
I would like to highlight the part of our discussion where Chris addressed the CONFERS group and how it had changed from about ten participants a few yeas ago to more than 50 now. CONFERS came up when Chris was asked market questions about orbital debris services. In addition, listen to the commentary about how this subject was played out in the recent G7 meetings as space was included as part of global stability issues.
Chris was asked about China and India plus other space nations including Australia, the UAE, and New Zealand. As a result of the legal concerns that had been touched upon earlier in the show, John in Dallas asked who the customer might be. Listen to how Chris explained that this would depend on the service being sought. He said that GEO issues would likely be paid by the satellite operator.
I personally thought the suggestion that the commercial operations would start around 2030, less than a decade from now, to be aggressive. While I hope that happens, it seems to me that lots has to happen with technology, regulations, policy and the willingness to fund all of it. I question if some nations, including the U.S., are ready to step forward to get the job done in the face of so many challenges that issues being talked about on this show will have lots of competition for prime time handling, specifically the necessary funding.
As we were nearing the end of the program, cyber concerns were brought up by listener Darren in Phoenix. Our guest had much to say about cyber, Astroscale, and the industry, especially how cyber had grown in importance from the back table to the front table with high priority. I thought cyber would be the final question but another came in at the last minute regarding educational outreach, the Kessler Syndrome, public relations and related topics. In his closing commentary, Chris talked about the need for more general and high level awareness of debris and space life extension hardware issues. He was very supportive of strong educational outreach on these critical issues.
Please post your comments/questions on our blog for this show. Make sure you read the PDF from Alison at Astroscale as it really helps to summarize our discussion.