Tomorrow’s satellites must evolve – because the space they operate in is changing. New regulations on cutting space debris are influencing satellite design, and ESA is reaching out to satellite builders.
ESA’s CleanSat technology programme is inviting European industry to submit ideas for ‘building blocks’ for next-generation low-orbit satellite platforms. They must comply with requirements for mitigating space debris while boosting platform performance and competitiveness.
Low orbits up to 2000 km above our world form the most highly congested region of space, widely used for Earth observation and some types of telecom satellites.
Growing populations of debris are a clear and present danger to valuable missions – moving at multiple kilometres per second, an incoming 1-cm nut can strike with the force of a hand grenade.
A growing number of countries have introduced regulations to limit the production of fresh debris within the protected low orbits, typically intending satellites to be brought down or boosted out of here within 25 years of the end of their working lives while reducing the risk to people on the ground to less than 1 in 10 000.
They also need to be ‘passivated’, removing leftover propellant and powering down batteries to avoid explosions.
“To remain internationally competitive, future low-Earth orbit platforms will have to meet these national and international regulations,” explains Luisa Innocenti, heading ESA’s Clean Space initiative.
“It has become obvious that achieving this in a systematic way implies wholesale evolution of low-orbiting satellite platforms.
“So what we plan through CleanSat is the development of new building blocks based on innovative technologies, carried out through a coordinated European approach to achieve economies of scale.
“This coordination is only possible by bringing together space agencies, satellite builders and their subsystem and equipment suppliers.”
Approaches include propulsion for deorbiting or reorbiting, a ‘design for demise’ approach to ensure satellites will definitely burn up in the atmosphere without the need for targeted reentry, drag augmentation devices such as sails, and propulsion and power passivation.
A CleanSat workshop in March began the discussion with industry. Now this announcement invites industry to propose their own building blocks for follow-up study involving suppliers, ESA and the satellite integrators.
The results will be folded into a CleanSat plan for consideration by ESA’s Ministerial Council in late 2016.
ESA’s own missions will make early use of these building blocks once they are readied for space, in particular the Earth Explorers and Sentinels.
To participate, more information is provided at ESA's tendering site.