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Nowadays, less than 9 000 objects have been launched to space. Around 5 000 are still in orbit, although only about 2 000 are operational. Besides these satellites, collisions and explosions have generated several thousands of debris pieces. To put a number, on average, two satellite failures per year in LEO result in a total loss of the satellite.
Moreover, recently, there has been a cheapening on the access to space (led by the CubeSats paradigm). On the wake of this movement, new space concepts have appeared, like the mega-constellations, which comprise hundreds and thousands of satellites in LEO.
Several studies indicate that to keep the debris population under control, the success ratio for disposal should be of 90% or 99% (higher than the current ratios). In order to keep the debris problem under control, new solutions have to be considered, as for instance the Active Removal of failed satellites, to avoid possible future collisions.
The objective of the project is:
(Image from the CAPTARE project – ESA project)
An Active Debris Removal service has several challenges, both technical and economical.
The technical challenges are several. Up to now, there is no operational active debris removal mission, although several technological demonstrator are on different stages of development. The capture phase is challenging, even more if we consider that it would have to provide service to satellites of different sizes and weights.
With respect to the economical aspects, the service has to provide a benefit to the companies. This seems plausible with mega-constellations, as failed satellites can interfere with their operations.
The ADR-LEOCOM is a flexible system, which could provide the service to not only one client, or one particular satellite model, but it is open to provide the service to several satellites (if they are in a range of sizes and weights). This flexibility is not present in current concepts.
Besides, the system is designed to deorbit several failed (or in their end of life) satellites using one single spacecraft. This is done for economic reasons, as it divides the cost into several services, whereas current concepts are focused in one single deorbit.
This flexibility and multi-deorbiting capability is a definite advantage of the ADR-LEOCOM project.
The project is divided in two different phases, with two tasks each.
To be noted that Phase 2 is activated only if positive results come from the analysis and business case from Phase 1.
The project is currently on the Phase 1, developing the activities of Market Analysis, and starting the activities related to the Business Case Definition. The first Project Meeting to evaluate the outcome of these analyses is on December 2019..