According to a posting by journalist Chris Forrester at the Advanced Television site, satellite telephony and data provider Iridium, which reportedly successfully has already de-orbited 65 of its old first-generation satellites, is looking to fund a space debris removal company to remove another 30 failed craft.
Trade publication Space News says Iridium started de-orbiting its old satellites back in 2017 and replaced them with new craft supplied by Thales Alenia Space.
Ninety-five Iridium craft were orbited between 1997 and 2002 and over time 30 of these malfunctioned. Seven of these are now in an extremely low orbit below 600kms and atmospheric drag will over time bring them down naturally where they will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
But Space News quotes Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, saying that 23 craft are between 100-200 kms higher and consequently could be expected to stay in orbit for at least 100 years. Whilst not posing the worst risks to other satellites (aging Soviet rocket parts and other debris represent a greater risk in the 700-1000 kms range) there is still a “significant risk” from Iridium craft, said McDowell.
However, while Iridium is enthusiastic about removing its old satellites from orbit it seems not to be keen on paying too much to would-be space debris operators, and Iridium suggests — a wholly unrealistic — “but provocative” $10,000 per removal would be its opening figure.