The Future of Satellite Operations: Starfish and Intelsat Team Up to Develop Commercial Satellite Servicing Market


In a groundbreaking agreement, Starfish and Intelsat have partnered to revolutionize satellite operations with a satellite servicing contract. Under the deal, Starfish will utilize its Otter spacecraft to boost the orbit of an operational Intelsat satellite in geostationary orbit, potentially extending its lifespan by several years. The mission, slated for 2026, marks Starfish’s first commercial Otter mission and a significant step towards developing the satellite servicing market.

The agreement comprises two stages: first, the Otter will rendezvous with a retired Intelsat satellite in a geostationary “graveyard” orbit to demonstrate its ability to dock with a spacecraft. Secondly, it will dock with the operational Intelsat satellite and use its onboard propulsion to boost its orbit. Starfish co-founder Trevor Bennett emphasized the company’s ambition to develop this market on a large scale, with commercial customers adopting satellite servicing as part of their normal fleet operations.

The Otter’s ability to provide life extension and satellite disposal services could have a significant impact on the satellite industry. Bennett noted that Starfish has focused on core technologies such as maneuvering capability, robotics, and software to enable rapid and scalable growth. The company envisions a future where entire fleets of Otter spacecraft are on orbit, ready to provide services as needed.

The satellite industry is closely watching the emergence of startups like Starfish, which are developing technologies that could disrupt the status quo. By extending the life of a multi-million or billion-dollar satellite, even by a few years, operators can benefit from significant cost savings. Bennett highlighted the flexibility offered by Starfish’s services, enabling operators to make dynamic decisions about their spacecraft, such as extending its lifespan or relocating it to a new orbit.

Starfish has already launched a smaller demonstration version of its Otter servicing vehicle, known as Otter Pup, which successfully rendezvoused with a D-Orbit spacecraft despite technical issues. The company plans to launch another Otter Pup to low Earth orbit in 2025 and execute a $37.5 million Space Force contract in 2026. Bennett’s vision is to make satellite interaction in orbit routine and mundane, paving the way for more complex interactions in space.

Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei covers the space and defense industries. Previously, she covered the public utilities and the power grid for California Energy Markets. You can also find her work at MIT’s Undark Magazine, The Verge, and Discover Magazine. She received an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Aria is based in Austin, Texas.

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