ARIADNA Call for Ideas 2010: Active Removal of Space Debris
Type of activity: Standard study (25 k€)
Ariadna Study Description
Background and Motyvation
For more than half a century Earth orbits have been used for a wide variety of purposes and man-made objects, such as spacecraft, provide services that have become an integral part of our day-to-day lives. This rapidly growing population of space objects is increasing the risk of collisions and thus the loss of valuable assets and services.
The number of space objects has risen significantly. Currently there are less than 1000 active satellites in orbit, among more than 20 000 tracked objects (US SSN catalogue) and an estimated 600 000 fragments larger than 1 cm . These space debris consist of old or malfunctioning satellites, launcher stages and fragments of these. As demonstrated by the recent collision between Iridium-33 and Cosmos-2251, these hazards increase the overall risk of collision of space missions in an already harsh operating environment , as well as the overall operational costs (need of collision avoidance manoeuvres) .
It has been suggested that the removal of just a few major pieces a year would reduce the risk for snowball like debris collision chains (Kessler syndrome) and thus improve satellite operations .
Strategies for reducing the number of space debris (including intact, non-active objects) are internationally coordinated through the Inter-Agency Debris Coordination Committee (IADC) and implemented at various space agencies . Research is also ongoing to extend the understanding of the debris generation mechanisms leading to a range of measures aiming at avoiding the creation of further debris. These efforts are however not reducing the problem of debris already in orbit.
This Call for Ideas focuses therefore on active space debris removal techniques and concepts, which have received much less attention than debris mitigation considerations.
Current Active Space Debris Removal Concepts
Researchers and engineers devised many concepts for active space debris removal [7-14]. Many of the concepts found in the literature are however lacking technological readiness. For instance, some are still at the stage of the initial idea that needs to be nurtured to more promising and feasible concepts. The relatively little attention given to this topic has resulted in an opportunity to propose creative new ideas, to mature existing ones further and to create the need for a more comprehensive comparison and classification.
Currently described ideas and concepts for active debris removal can be classified into the following categories:
- Electromagnetic methods: Electrodynamic tethers , magnetic sail...
- Capture with e.g. nets: [10-11]
- Momentum exchange methods: , Solar sail, Drag augmentation device ...
- Remote methods: Lasers [7-9]...
- Modification of material properties or change of material state
Each concept has its own preferred orbital regime (LEO, MEO, GEO), and only targets specific debris size ranges. As an example, Melamed et al provide an assessment of concepts for debris removal in GEO . It puts emphasis on a few criteria including practicality, cost and risk.
For the purpose of this study, the most hazardous debris are considered those with a size larger than 10 cm. These can cause catastrophic spacecraft break-ups, and they represent also the tracking capability limit for current radar with regard to debris in LEO orbits.
The proposed reference scenario for the study is:
- removal of non-cooperating debris;
- removal in all Earth orbits, with a preference for high density areas and orbits with high mass concentrations;
- removal of single or multiple debris of size > 10 cm.
Research and Study Objectives
The main aim of this Call for Ideas is to perform research on new and innovative scientific and technical concepts for active space debris removal.
For the selected concepts or techniques, the first most important research step shall be performed during the study.
In principle, all scientific fields of potential relevance are encouraged to propose solutions, which should not be restricted to the classical spacecraft engineering and mission analysis research communities.
Technically, study proposals shall therefore contain in addition to the general idea:
- a description of the application of the general idea in form of a concept (technical, scientific)
- a description of the current overall technology readiness level of the key aspects of the concept
- an understanding of its technical feasibility for a 2025 timeframe including a step-by-step approach of the underlying research needed to effectively tackle the problem. (What research is key to reach the necessary technological level?)
- identification of possible demonstration opportunities for these technologies over the next 15 years? Proposers are invited to also provide additional information related to aspects such as reliability, re-usability of the concept and removal operation duration.
While new ideas will be given preference, proposals which constitute a major improvement of an existing concept will also be considered. The proposed research scope needs to be feasible within the Ariadna study framework (www.esa.int/ariadna) and constitute an important step towards reaching the goals of active debris removal.
Proposers are strongly encouraged to underline their reasoning with references to published papers and research results.
1. Orbital Debris: A technical assessment. Commission on Engineering and Technical System, National Academis Press, Washington, 1995
2. H. Klinkrad, Space Debris: models and risk analysis, Springer, 2006
3. C. Pardini, Analysis of the consequences in Low Earth Orbit of the collision between Cosmos 2251 and Iridium 33. 21st ISSFD, Toulouse, France, 2009
4. G. Beaumet, CNES operational feedbacks in collision avoidance for LEO satellites. 21st ISSFD, Toulouse, France, 2009
5. J.-C. Liou and N. Johnson, A Sensitivity Study of the Effectiveness of Active Debris Removal in LEO. Acta Astronautica, Volume 64, Issues 2-3, Pp. 236-243, 2009
6. H. Klinkrad (ed.), ESA space debris mitigation handbook, 2nd ed. (With Update).
7. M. Marti-Marques, Space Debris Remover at GEO Orbit. 55th International Astronautical Congress, Vancouver, British Columbia, 2004
8. C.R. Phipps, J.P. Reilly, ORION: Clearing near-Earth space debris in two years using a 30-kW repetitively-pulsed laser, Proc. of SPIE, Vol. 3092, p728, 1997
9. J.T. Early, C. Bibeau, C. Phipps, Space debris de-orbiting by vaporization impulse using short pulse laser. Proc. of SPIE, Vol. 5448, p441-449, 2004
10. Shin-Ichiro Nishida, Satomi Kawamoto, Yasushi Okawa, Fuyuto Terui and Shoji Kitamura, Space debris removal system using a small satellite. Acta Astronautica, Volume 65, Issues 1-2, Pages 95-102, 2009
11. ESA General Studies Program, Robotic Geostationary Orbit Restorer (ROGER). GSP Final Report 01/N30.
12. C. Pardini, T. Hanada, P.H. Krisko, Benefits and Risks of Using Electrodynamic Tethers to De-orbit Spacecraft. 57th International Astronautical Congress, Valencia, Spain, 2006
13. D.C. Maessen, E.D. van Breukelen, B.T.C. Zandbergen, O.K. Bergsma, Development of a Generic Inflatable De-Orbit Device for Cubesats. 58th International Astronautical Congress, Hyderabad, India, 2007
14. N. Melamed, C. P. Griffice, V. Chobotov, Survey of GEO Debris Removal Concepts. 59th International Astronautical Congress, Glasgow, Scotland, 2008
15. Position paper on Orbital Debris, Space debris subcommittee of the International Academy of Astronautics, 1999 Spaceguard Central Node: http://spaceguard.esa.int