MONTREAL: Canada's NorthStar Earth & Space and Thales Alenia Space said on Tuesday they will begin work on a commercial satellite system to combat the threat of collisions in space.
NorthStar, an information service company, said it has contracted Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between France's Thales and Italy's Leonardo, to build the first three satellites of its "Skylark" constellation.
Montreal-based NorthStar said the constellation would be the first commercial service to monitor objects like satellites in space from space, where they can be tracked more precisely than from Earth.
Seattle-based LeoStella LLC will oversee the final assembly of the satellites, which are expected to launch in 2022. A full system of 12 satellites is expected in 2024, said NorthStar co-founder Stewart Bain in interview.
"We are deliberately international because this is an international problem," Bain said.
While the United States and other governments already collect such data, demand for near real-time information that is commercially available is growing rapidly as experts forecast a "new space" economy worth over US$1 trillion a year.
Data from the constellation could be used by groups from insurance companies to commercial satellite operators, Bain said.
The 2009 collision between a spacecraft operated by U.S. communications group Iridium Satellite LLC and a Russian Cosmos-2251 military satellite sent at least 600 pieces of debris off into space and raised fears that other satellites could be struck and damaged.
More recently, some researchers suggested in May that countries should levy an "orbit congestion charge" on satellite operators to tackle the growing concentration of space junk like debris, although others doubted the practicalities of such a fee.
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal; editing by Richard Pullin)