Space Tug Set to Launch in 2007

Image credit: Orbital Recovery
Orbital Recovery Ltd. today signed a long-term, exclusive launch services contract for the ConeXpress Orbital Life Extension Vehicle (CX OLEV?) – a unique spacecraft that will be deployed by Ariane 5 to serve as an orbital space tug.

This agreement – inked with Arianespace at the Berlin Air Show – covers the initial flight of a CX OLEV? in 2007, followed by four additional launches beginning in 2008. Orbital Recovery Ltd. will order further flights in sets of three missions.

The ConeXpress Orbital Life Extension Vehicle will be carried as a secondary payload on Ariane 5. Its liftoff mass will be approximately 1,200-1,400 kg. Developed by European industry, CX OLEV is designed to extend the useful lifetime of multi-million dollar telecommunications satellites by 10 years or more, and also is capable of rescuing satellites stranded in incorrect orbits.

“Ariane is known for setting the standards in commercial launch services, and we look forward to using Ariane 5 for our CX OLEV – which will set the standards for the in-orbit servicing of telecommunications satellites,” said Phil Braden, Chief Executive Officer of Orbital Recovery Ltd.

Operating as an orbital “tugboat,” the CX OLEV will supply propulsion, navigation and guidance to maintain a telecom satellite in its proper orbital slot for many years. Currently, telecommunications spacecraft are placed in a graveyard orbit as they deplete their on-board propellant loads near the end of the typical 10-15-year operation lifetimes – even though the satellites’ revenue-generating communications relay payloads continue to function.

Orbital Recovery Limited has identified more than 40 telecommunications satellites in orbit today that are candidates for life extension using the CX OLEV. In addition, the CX OLEV can be deployed to rescue spacecraft that have been placed in a wrong orbit, or which have become stranded in an incorrect orbital location during positioning maneuvers.

“We are pleased to provide launch services for this very innovative spacecraft, which continues Arianespace’s policy of working with promising new payloads and their operators,” said Arianespace Chief Executive Officer Jean-Yves Le Gall. “The mission flexibility of Ariane 5, combined with our experience in handling multi-satellite payloads, will enable the CX OLEV to be launched when needed to serve Orbital Recovery Ltd.’s mission requirements.”

In an original approach to spacecraft design, the CX OLEV is manufactured from the payload adapter that is used on every Ariane 5 mission. This allows flight-proven hardware to serve as the CX OELV structure, and opens regular launch opportunities for the space tug on Ariane 5.

Shaped like a truncated cone, the CX OLEV will continue to serve as a payload adapter for Ariane 5 missions, with the launcher’s primary satellite payload mounted atop it. Once the primary payload has been released, the CX OLEV will be deployed from the launcher to begin its own mission as an independent space tug.

The industry team developing CX OLEV is led by the Netherlands’ Dutch Space, and includes Germany’s DLR German Aerospace Center and Kayser-Threde. Aon Space is providing insurance brokering and risk management services.

Orbital Recovery Ltd. recently initiated the B1 Phase of its program, which is funded by the company and the European Space Agency under its ARTES 4 Public-Private Partnership initiative.

Original Source: Orbital Recovery News Release