The Next Major Space Industry Trend Will Be Repairing And Trashing Satellites While They're In Orbit

The ISS recently released an adorable little cubesat to help harpoon space junk orbiting Earth, but it’s small potatoes compared to what comes next: a whole industry geared toward repairing, refueling, and removing satellites from orbit. Apart from being incredibly expensive to build and launch, satellites are one of the main contributors to the rapidly growing shell of space junk around Earth.

According to Al Tadros, a VP at the space company SSL, the solution may be putting the “equivalent to a AAA servicing truck in geostationary orbit,” which will help extend the life of million-dollar satellites and keep them from becoming dangerous high-speed trash. Tadros says it’s “financially a very, very big opportunity,” and we’re inclined to believe him – launching a satellite into orbit can cost between $10 and $400 million dollars, and simply giving up on it after 10-25 years means sending a whole lot of money down the drain.

SSL isn’t the only one looking to make it into this new industry: Northrop Grumman’s company Space Logistics has already signed a contract with Intelsat to employ its MEV system, which will be able to tow malfunctioning satellites back into their correct orbit.

Apart from repairing or servicing satellites, there’s a growing industry around the need to eliminate space junk stuck in orbit. Companies like Astroscale and Airbus have already begun creating systems that will allow them to safely dispose of dead satellites, either by burning them up in Earth’s atmosphere or moving them to a “graveyard orbit” where they won’t be in the way of other satellites or rockets.

So far, it looks like these companies have their work cut out for them: there are at least 1,900 satellites in orbit around Earth, and tens of thousands more pieces of space debris. To drive home the reality of space junk orbiting the planet, an artist named Daan Roosegaarde has created a new art installation that uses giant green lasers to point out some of the pieces as they zip around the sky. Hopefully these companies can make strides in removing some of that junk before space travel becomes even more dangerous.