Space Tug Gets Entangled

"Amid a flurry of legal wranglings, charges and countercharges, a North Salt Lake company and three former associates are in a tug-of-war over nuclear-powered space tugs, with perhaps billions of dollars at stake," the Salt Lake Tribune reports:

IOSTAR and its founder and CEO have filed suit against the three former associates, alleging theft of corporate secrets in order to develop competing satellites. In a counterclaim, the three allege that the CEO has misappropriated millions of dollars and violated tax and securities law.

To date, no satellites have been developed, let alone launched. IOSTAR has seen its board of directors implode through dismissals or resignations. And a tangled web of companies and current and former officers is caught in the legal crossfire. 

IOSTAR’s dream of a nuclear-powered satellite that could serve as a tug pulling other satellites from a low orbit, where it’s cheaper to launch them into their proper orbits, is shared by many companies. Last December, Loral wanted in on the Space Tug proposal:

The Space System/Loral-team would use the company’s proven 1300-series satellite bus as a refuelable space tug that would remain in orbit for as long as 10 years. After docking with and escorting an essentially dumb cargo vessel to the [International Space Station], the vehicle would also remove it from the station and allow it to be deorbited over an ocean. 

While the space tug legal wranglings work themselves out in Utah, the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) — the "most powerful space tug ever built" — is proving to be an indispensable ISS supply ship.


Approximately every 17 months, ATV is scheduled to carry 7.7 tonnes of cargo to the Station 400 km above the Earth. An onboard high precision navigation system will automatically guide ATV on a rendezvous trajectory towards ISS, where it will dock with the Station’s Russian service module Zvezda.

We blogged about ATV’s launch last month. The ISS is getting good use out of the ATV, as today’s status report from the ISS indicates. ATV1 is scheduled to undock from the ISS in August of this year.