Cooperative Multi-spacecrafts ELIminAting debris risKs

Space debris is a steeply growing safety, security, and environmental issue with global impact. Nowadays there is debris with various sizes almost everywhere in Earth orbit. While in the case of objects from low earth orbit (LEO) it is easier to decay to the disposal orbit, in the case of Geostationary objects, greater masses of propellants are required to de-orbit them to Graveyard orbit. For medium earth orbit (MEO), several disposal strategies were analyzed by European Space Agency (ESA) in a separate study. From the past we have also learned that satellites can lose their ability to de-orbit in a controlled way by their own propellant sources, like e.g. Envisat which was already identified within the top 50 LEO debris for active removal (top 1 of Europe origin). Such objects can nowadays only be tracked as a potential safety issue.

In general, missions using single purpose large spacecraft for any servicing or active debris removal at orbit are mostly tailored for a specific debris while launched as primary payloads and thus are very expensive. High costs are related to both, development of such a tool and its launch. The concept of a multipurpose “all in one” space servicing vehicle of CleanSpace is decreasing costs primarily in the area of usability of such a spacecraft. However, for the upcoming age of mega-constellations of satellites, it will be naturally harder with time to satisfy the demand of customers, particularly at various orbits, thus specialization should be a natural step forward as in any other industrial sector. Moreover, with private players entering the market, one can expect that more and more objects are going to be sent to orbits as well as rapid advancement of technology. While we see the benefit/potential of a highly sophisticated multi-purpose large scale spacecraft, we still feel that it might not be adequately equipped to address all the disruptive innovations the new “players” might bring.

Ambitious project

Therefore we have identified an opportunity to support ESA’s Clean Space multipurpose space vehicle by aiming to introduce a new way of debris manipulation at orbit for longer distances hand in hand with the ability to be launched by lighter launching systems or as secondary payloads. Once in place, any multipurpose vehicle can be focused on its highest added value – servicing instead of catching and removal. Our aim is to utilize all known advantages of cooperating multi-agent systems (robustness, smaller development price, distributed activities, etc.) for catching and debris manipulation including changing their orbits and delivery to the target place for their storage, burning in atmosphere or in-orbit servicing. This should enable the price of these space activities to decrease substantially in the future. With our proposal we are aiming to complement these activities with a focus set on identification of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for a new business in the scope of utilization of cooperative multi-agent system approach for active debris removal (ADR).