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CEO of Effective Space: "We have reached advanced stages of development, but it was impossible to raise money to build the system for repairing satellites, so we were looking for a buyer"

Helzband said these things in an interview with the science site * Exit in the new space field Astroscale US acquired the Israeli operation Effective Space that develops systems for repairing satellites in space * Effective Space founder and CEO Arie Helzband tells the science site: We proved the capability of the system, but it was difficult to raise funds to build the SPACE DRONE that will attach to the satellites and enable their life to be extended * Halzband and the engineering team will form the basis of the subsidiary in Israel and will continue the product and technology development plan

Space Drone clings to another satellite. Illustration: Effective Spice
Space Drone clings to another satellite. Illustration: Effective Spice

Astroscale US, a division of Astroscale Holdings. The Japanese company, the market leader in the field of long-term sustainability in space, has signed a binding agreement to purchase the intellectual property, assets, operations and engineering staff of the Israeli company Effective Space Solutions R&D Ltd (ESS), one of the pioneers in the field of space operation services and satellite life extension.

The move positions Astroscale as the only company in the world today that focuses exclusively on providing services in space both in low satellite orbit ("LEO") in which it is active today and in geosynchronous orbit ("GEO" - height 35,786 km above the Earth's equator - mainly communication satellites a. B.) where ESS is active. The step is a move to complete the company's vision of maintaining the sustainability of space, for future generations. Completion of the transaction is conditional on the fulfillment of several conditions (Closing conditions). The deal is the first acquisition of an Israeli company operating in the space sector.

 

ESS, founded by Aryeh Helzband, an entrepreneur, the former manager of the Space Plant of the Israel Aerospace Exploration Agency and one of the pioneers of the space industry in Israel, is considered among the world's pioneers in the field of space operation services. The company has developed some of the most promising and innovative space service technologies on the market and has rich experience in complex GEO missions and programs. Its Space Drone satellite program, which will develop into a platform for extending the life of Astroscale's satellites in geosynchronous orbit, has already been widely recognized by leading satellite operators - including among potential customers with whom - Astroscale US conducts discussions - as a cost-effective, innovative and compatible solution for satellite service in space. A theoretical example, of course, if the system already existed, it might have been possible to save the Amos 5 satellite that suddenly stopped working several years ago.

Arya Helzband. Photo: Eyal Yitzhar.
Arya Helzband. Photo: Eyal Yitzhar.

13 degrees of freedom

In response to the science website's question at which stage the company has reached in the development of the Space Drone, Halesband said: "We have reached the level of testing a model in a robotic laboratory where space systems with 13 degrees of freedom are tested. We also tested the artificial vision capability of the system that gives feedback to the satellite and helps it stick to the large communications satellite. We also prepared the concept of a docking system with systems simulating the relevant parts of the real satellites."

You couldn't raise money and build such a satellite?

"We were unable to raise money because it is difficult for companies Israelis in the field of space to raise money in general because investors prefer cyber and applications, so we started looking for a buyer of songs the financial task that could spend money to complete the development. In my estimation, it will now be possible to complete the development and build a working satellite within two to three years." Helzband added that today the budgets directed to the new space sector are the responsibility of the Israel Space Agency. "Avi Blasberger (the director of the agency) is doing his best to help the new space industry, but the budget for this is tiny."

Another problem that hinders the new space industry in Israel is the lack of manpower. "The space community is very small, and there are not enough engineers and they move from company to company. The only relevant faculty - the Faculty of Aeronautics and Space Engineering at the Technion produces mainly aeronautics engineers and not enough space engineers.

Elon Musk for example

According to Helzband, it is not possible to establish a space industry without government funding. Even Elon Musk would not be where he is today if he had not received a budget from NASA, SpaceX almost went bankrupt and then it received 1.8 billion dollars from NASA to fly equipment and then travel to the space station. Even the last mission (DEMO 2 in which two astronauts were launched aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft) was entirely funded by NASA. This does not detract from SpaceX's technological ability and achievement, but look where the money comes from."

Who is the purchasing company?

"The buyer is a Japanese company that has an American subsidiary that deals with extending the lives of low-orbit satellites that are nearing the end of their lives in order to prevent the formation of space debris. We provide them with a new business line and complement the treatment of geostationary satellites and their life extension."

Helzband emphasizes that it is not about buying the company's shares, but the purchase of the company's assets. "The engineering team is moving to the new company, they will sit in the same place, the same people who do the same thing, but it will be called differently."

Space Drone in action. Illustration: Effective Spice
Space Drone in action. Illustration: Effective Spice

Independent market studies estimate that life extension and other satellite services while in orbit in space will generate revenues of more than $4 billion by 2028. Revenue for GEO satellites in space orbit often exceeds $200 million. To support this emerging market, Astroscale Holdings recently announced a Series E funding round to support life extension missions. I-NET CORP, a leading Japanese data center provider, was the first investor in this new round, which is expected to remain open until the end of 2020. Astroscale has so far raised $140 million in its previous four rounds, and the new round will enhance the company's strong portfolio of waste reduction services space.

"The corona epidemic intensifies the dependence on communication satellites"

"Imagine that instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to replace the GEO satellite, you can extend its life in orbit at a reasonable price, repair it or upgrade it while it is in orbit. This is the opportunity we welcome today with the addition of the new capabilities and teams" says Ron Lopez, President and CEO of Astroscale US. "We currently sell in the field of space debris removal services in the 'low' orbit and now with the new connection, we will be able to do this also for the purpose of extending the life of satellites in the geostationary orbit. We are ready to start serving commercial operators, the US government and partner governments around the world, all as a proud part of the American space community. "

In favor of the move, Astroscale US established a new subsidiary - Astroscale Israel Ltd - which will be staffed, when the deal is completed, by former ESS employees and whose headquarters is in Tel Aviv. Astroscale US will focus on responding to customer demand for satellite services, including those of the US government, while Astroscale Israel will serve as the R&D group and as the one that will provide the satellites for the services in space in the fields of extending the life of satellites in the geostationary orbit for critical communication tasks, navigation and national security services .

According to Helzband, who will serve as CEO of Astroscale Israel, the company's talented engineering team, which includes veteran and young space engineers, has been a pioneer in the space services market in recent years. "The development center will continue to work in Israel, the development team will continue what it was doing before and it is even expected to grow under the new company. We share with Astroscale a similar vision and strategy for how our technology and platform can become a logistics solution for commercial and government satellites. The acquisition of our technology by Astroscale is a testament to the viability of our work and we are eager to join the Astroscale team." According to Helzband, the company implemented the Israeli approach and experience in the production of small, high-performance and inexpensive satellites, which enabled the acceptance of the solution by the clientele as a suitable response to their needs.

"The world is now relying on space-based services, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only intensifying that reliance," said Nobu Okada, founder and CEO of Astroscale Holdings. "Our goal at Astroscale is to enable sustainability in space, and extending the life of satellites represents a huge leap forward in our ability to realize this goal." We welcome the Israeli Astroscale team, and look forward to realizing our vision with them.

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