Have you ever wondered what grapple fixtures are and how they benefit the growing space economy? We’ve got you covered! In our upcoming three part blog series, Voyager will be handing the reins to Altius Space Machines, who will provide an insider’s perspective on grapple fixtures and why they are important to the space industry.
For those not familiar, Altius is a space robotics and technology company with specific expertise in satellite servicing. While they offer a variety of innovative services, one in particular that is gaining significant industry attention is their DogTag™ grapple fixtures. These are commercially available, universal grappling points for satellites, which support a variety of grappling approaches, including mechanical, magnetic, and electrostatic grappling and serve a unique purpose of helping preemptively mitigate the growing space debris problem by making it easier to de-orbit or re-locate defunct satellites.
Before diving into what makes Altius’ grapple fixtures unique, it’s important to point out why grapple fixtures are so important in the first place. In 2022 alone, there were 2,163 objects launched into space from around the world – that’s more than 2010-2016 combined. This shows great momentum for the overall space economy, but also means the potential for more space debris and junk. Grapple fixtures allow operators to safely de-orbit their satellites and provide end of life disposal operations, without contributing to the ongoing space junk problem.
In fact, the North American grapple fixture was first invented back in the 1970s and variants have been used in the Space Shuttle program, on unpiloted SpaceX missions, and are even used on the International Space Station and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. While much heavier and more complex than Altius’ DogTag, the existence of these early grapple fixtures show that smart people saw the necessity of grappling fixtures over 50 years ago.
What makes Altius’ grapple fixtures so unique is that they are universal, meaning they are agnostic to the servicer and they are much more affordable and lighter than other solutions, making it even easier to help make space safe to operate in. Stay tuned for our next blog post while will dive further into Altius’ technology along with mission examples where their grapple fixtures have been used.