Wayward satellites could be dragged back into working orbits using a space tug that is set to make its maiden flight in 2007.
The orbital tugboats could rescue spacecraft placed into the wrong orbit during a flawed launch. They could also reposition orbiting satellites that have simply drifted into a useless low orbit over time, as a result of the Earth’s gravitational pull.
A deal to launch the first of these spacecraft in 2007 was signed by Orbital Recovery, the company behind the idea, and the European launch firm Arianespace, on Wednesday at the Berlin Air Show. Four more space tugs are scheduled to launch during 2008.
The design for the ConeXpress Orbital Life Extension Vehicles (CX OLEV) is based on the platform used to carry normal satellites into space aboard an Ariane 5. After separating from the launch rocket, the tug would then detach from the primary payload and move off.