I know that the space shuttle was originally designed with the capability to retrieve satellites from space, but I'm wondering if in the commercial market right now if there are services that allow the retrieval?

I've seen companies that do space junk clean up etc, but wondering if when companies or governments use SpaceX or one of the other launch companies to launch a satellite, do they also have the ability to go and get that satellite too?

  • $\begingroup$ slightly related: Have there been individual satellites that have been deployed and recovered more than twice? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Oct 31, 2019 at 7:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If it was commercially viable someone would be doing it already, the cost of retrieval refurbishing and relaunching isn't more attractive than simply building a new one with the latest technology $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Oct 31, 2019 at 8:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It seems that the ability to retrieve a satellite from orbit to surface was not missed very often during the last decades. May be the cost to retrieve, repair, recheck and relaunch was much higher than to build and launch a new replacement satellite. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Oct 31, 2019 at 11:32
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Why would you retrieve a satellite from orbit? $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Oct 31, 2019 at 12:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @logos_164 The most expensive part of launching a satellite is usually the launch vehicle. A retrieval operation would usually be more expensive than just building a new satellite. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Oct 31, 2019 at 16:03

1 Answer 1


Defining "retrieval" as "returning a commercial satellite to earth" then as of this moment there is no known capability to do that. (Ground-ruling out capsules like Dragon that return themselves with internal cargo).

As you mention Shuttle was designed for that but it was decades since it performed that function.

One could speculate about the X-37 and SpaceX has mentioned using their proposed vehicles in this role. But as of right now...no.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes that’s what I meant is returning it safely to earth and thank you for the detailed answer. What I’m getting from your answer is that the capability is most likely there, it’s just not provided as a service is that fairly accurate? $\endgroup$
    – logos_164
    Oct 31, 2019 at 0:37
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ It's not impossible to do but no one can do it right now. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2019 at 1:05
  • $\begingroup$ I mean technically if the satellite were small enough, they could fly it into an airlock on the ISS and then put it in a dragon capsule... $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Oct 31, 2019 at 14:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek I tried to rule out edge cases like that. There could conceivably be cubesats deployed from ISS and retrieved. I don't think that was the intent of the question. $\endgroup$ Oct 31, 2019 at 15:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "[but it has been decades since it last performed that function, with only four STS launches (out of 135) having recovered five satellites in total.]" $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Nov 1, 2019 at 0:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.