Thales Alenia Space, the joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has won a €235 million contract from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to design, develop and qualify a spacecraft for a dedicated In-Orbit Servicing (IOS) demonstration mission. Thales Alenia Space is leading a Temporary Grouping of Companies regrouping Leonardo, Telespazio, Avio and D-Orbit.
The mission will be developed in the framework of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR), with support from the Italian Space Agency. The demonstration mission will operate in low Earth orbit (LEO) and is set to be launched by 2026.
A growing number of satellites are now circling the Earth to meet a wide range of requirements, from geolocation and connectivity, to weather forecasts, environmental monitoring and much more. Thales Alenia Space is therefore developing in-orbit servicing solutions to address the evolving needs of satellites in orbit.
“We are delighted that the Italian Space Agency chose the team of Thales Alenia Space, Leonardo, Telespazio, Avio and D-Orbit to carry out this ambitious project that will make space more sustainable,” said Massimo Claudio Comparini, Senior Executive Vice President, Observation, Exploration, and Navigation at Thales Alenia Space. “This mission reflects the skills and experience of established players in complex space projects, coupled with the more agile approach provided by emerging space companies. By working together they will generate synergies that ensure the future viability of the space sector, while also developing all-Italian technologies to support the growth of the country’s space industry.”
The demonstration mission will test enabling technologies for future on-orbit servicing missions by performing a wide range of robotic operations on satellites already in orbit: refueling, component repair or replacement, orbital transfer and atmospheric reentry.
These operations will be executed thanks to a dexterous robotic arm, developed by Leonardo in collaboration with SAB Aerospace, the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT).
Telespazio, together with Altec, will be in charge of the demonstration mission Ground Segment design, development and validation.
Space logistics company D-Orbit will manage all activities related to the target satellite platform, which is based on the company’s proprietary ION (In Orbit Now) platform, as well as the refueling system, with the transfer of a fluid from the servicer satellite to the target satellite.
Avio will carry out the design and development activities of the Orbital Support and Propulsion Module for the orbital stages.
In Orbit Servicing vehicles represent a real paradigm shift, since they will introduce unrivaled system scalability and flexibility by providing in-orbit maintenance and upgrade possibilities — also changing the whole approach to satellite design. To meet this challenge, industry will call on its unrivaled multidisciplinary expertise spanning from launchers, satellite infrastructure, robotics, sensing, artificial intelligence up to atmospheric reentry systems.
Thales Alenia Space is the European leader in in-orbit servicing, a new approach to space based on smarter, more innovative missions that make space more sustainable, as reflected in Thales Alenia Space’s “Space for Life” vision.
This Italian demonstration mission confirms Thales Alenia Space’s leadership in in-orbit servicing, following the contract signed with the European Commission last year for the EROSS IOD program.