Enabling & Support

Announcement of opportunity #1 'Sustainable near-Earth access and life support (SEALS)'

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ESA / Enabling & Support / Preparing for the Future / Discovery and Preparation

The AO named Sustainable near-Earth Access and Life Support (SEALS) addressed technology reference studies concerning the investigation of the physical and technical limits of Earth or Sun-bound space mission concepts enabling the modification of orbital dynamics of a third body e.g. space hardware, debris or very small natural objects e.g. meter-sized asteroids. An additional objective was to explore the relations between the near-Earth environment and life. Possible applications of this technology could but are not limited to orbital debris removal, asteroid deflection or solar system exploration.

Work was focused in particular on the technology proof of concept and the feasibility of an in-space demonstration, in the timeframe 2025+.

Four different Technical Assessment Challenges were proposed, which are listed and described below.

Challenge No. 1
Mission concepts and technologies for a contactless Earth-bound object orbit modification system

Successful proposals described mission and technological concepts aimed at the modification of the orbit of an uncooperative object.

They focused in particular on the technology proof of concept and the feasibility of an in-space demonstration, aiming to increase TRL from 6 to 9.

 

 

  • The capability to modify the orbital speed (and hence altitude) of a single, uncooperative, irregular object of 100 kg in LEO by 50 m/s in less than 3 years.
  • The capability to adjust its own altitude (speed) and attitude accordingly during all phases.
  • The flexibility to be effective regardless of the shape of the object. A metallic object is assumed. The shape and the position of the object will be assumed to be known beforehand.
  • A remote i.e. contactless approach is expected (to limit mechanical interaction and the mission and environmental risks linked to it).
  • ROM cost shall be below 150 MEUR including launch system. A preliminary analysis of cost driver shall therefore be performed.
  • Target orbit for the demonstration is a 800 km SSO.

Challenge No. 2
Mission concepts and technologies for contactless asteroid orbit modification system

Successful proposals described the mission and technological concepts for a (single or binary) asteroid orbit modification system.

They focused in particular on the technology proof of concept and the feasibility of an in-space demonstration.

 

 

  • The capability to modify the orbital speed (and hence semi-major axis) of a NEO, an irregular object of 130 tons (e.g. referring to the average density of a silicate asteroid) measuring 2-4 m in diameter, by 1 m/s in less than 3 years.
  • The capability to adjust its own orbit (speed) and attitude as needed during all phases.
  • The capability to measure such modification (using any space or ground-based measurements that are realistically compatible with the assumed project costs).
  • The flexibility to be effective regardless of the shape and aggregation state of the asteroid. A silicate object can be assumed. The shape and exact position of the object will not be assumed to be known a priori.
  • A remote i.e. contactless approach is expected (to limit mechanical interaction and the mission and environmental risks linked to it).
  • ROM cost below 150 MEUR including launch system.
  • Target operational orbit limits: perihelion min 0.7 aphelion max 1.4 AU inclination (close to zero +/- 5 deg) and with dynamic characteristics such that it poses no risk to the Earth (i.e. increasing Minimum Orbit Intersection Distance, MOID).
  • Demonstrate to have a mission solution backup (even with another target) in the year following the launch foreseen in the baseline.

Challenge No. 3
Mission concept and technologies for binary asteroid orbit modification

Successful proposals described mission and technological concepts for a double asteroid relative orbit modification by kinetic impact.

They focused in particular on the technology proof of concept and the feasibility of an in-space demonstration.

 

 

  • The capability to modify the binary asteroids' relative orbital speed (and hence orbital period) i.e. irregular natural object of 250 tons (e.g. referring to the average density of a silicate asteroid) measuring as a minimum 5 m in diameter, by 0.8 mm/s in less than 3 years. A carbonaceous, silicate or metallic solid object can be assumed. The shape and exact position of the object will not be assumed to be known a priori.
  • The capability to adjust its own orbit (speed) and attitude as needed during all phases.
  • The capability to measure such modification (using any space or ground-based measurements that are realistically compatible with the assumed project costs).
  • Momentum transfer by direct contact shall be assumed.
  • ROM cost below 150 MEUR including launch system.
  • Target operational orbit limits: perihelion min 0.7; aphelion max 1.4 AU; inclination close to zero +/- 5 deg; and with dynamic characteristics such that it poses no risk to the Earth (i.e. increasing minimum orbit intersection distance, MOID).

Challenge No. 4
Mission concepts and technologies for a life support system demonstration in interplanetary space

Successful outline proposals described the mission and technological concepts to demonstrate the capability of today's LSSs to sustain the life of a consumer in an interplanetary environment. Possible consumer candidates for the payload range from small invertebrates such as worms up to small mammals such as mice.

Outline Proposals focused in particular on technological applications of LSSs with the additional aim to enable measurements and recordings of key indicators that represent the physiological health of the payload.

The main objective was to investigate the feasibility of today's LSSs to preserve all living functions during interplanetary space flight. Secondary objectives could be proposed (e.g observe the impact of radiation on the consumer, analyse the development of the consumer to withstand the space environment).

  • The capability to build an efficient small-scale LSS.
  • A mission profile that enables to launch the LSS demonstrator into interplanetary space.
  • The capability to measure the live signs of the observed animals during the whole mission duration.
  • The capability of the observation- and LSS-System to adapt to evolution of the biological environment of the payload.
  • The capability to observe the space environment regarding influencing forces.
  • ROM cost below 150 MEUR including launch system.
  • Target of the mission is a heliocentric orbit (min perihelion 0.8 AU; and max aphelion 1.2 AU) or a trajectory that is representative of interplanetary travel conditions.

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