Pioneering in-orbit services for future space operations
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Following on from the successful completion of a feasibility study on the clearing of the LEO (Low Earth Orbiting) environment, a consortium led by ClearSpace has now been awarded a follow-up contract by the UKSA to perform the preliminary design of the mission. The ClearSpace satellite will be launched into space to rendezvous with existing satellites with the aim of solving the problem of an increasingly congested space environments. In addition, the mission takes a step in the right direction towards innovation in in-orbit servicing where it is possible that on docking with the existing satellites, a multitude of services will become possible. Using robotic capabilities and an adaptive capture system, a satellite can be fixed, refuelled, or pulled out of the way of other satellites.
In-Orbit ADR (Active Debris Removal) services will shape the future of space for us all. Theoretically, all satellites are at risk of becoming space junk. Satellites can be designed with end-of-life procedures that allow them to responsibly remove themselves from space. Historically however, space-faring nations have not been great at cleaning up after themselves. ClearSpace looks to pave the way to a future with harmonious and prosperous space environmentalism at its core.
To put the scale of the issue into perspective, in 1957, when Sputnik, the USSR’s and the world’s first satellite was launched, only three other space launches were attempted. Space debris at that time was simply not a concern. In 2021, 1,400 satellites successfully launched, the following year 1,700 satellites launched, and with an estimated 18,500 small satellites due to be sent into orbit in the next decade. The pollution of Earth’s orbits, especially of the LEO, is the primary threat to maintaining sustainability. There are currently an estimated 900,000 objects larger than 1cm.
Needless to say, the need to safeguard the space environment for the benefit of everyone on Earth has never been more paramount.
Objectives of CLEAR Mission
The CLEAR mission will remove at least two UK satellites which have been inactive for more than ten years and are in a very congested region of LEO. Without innovation in ADR, these UK satellites are predicted to stay in orbit for a century before naturally re-entering the atmosphere. By working with partners in the UK as well as global partners to address this issue, the UK is sending a strong collaborative message to the world: Let’s protect and provide longevity to critical space-based infrastructure that underpins a lot of the daily activities we often take for granted – transport systems, climate change monitoring, financial transactions, and weather forecasting to name but a few.
The Satellite Applications Catapult provides its expertise in the development of operations facilities for ADR and in Orbit Service and Manufacturing (IOSM) missions, and is providing input to the ClearSpace ground system design & operations concepts. The Satellite Applications Catapult has expertise in this area having hosted Astroscale’s End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-D), along with a variety of other missions including TechDemoSat (TDS) satellites, Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC), and European and UK bilateral missions.
As a consortium partner, Satellite Applications Catapult is focusing on the ground segment with the aim of establishing the initial ground segment concept. Additionally the Catapult will consider the suitability of existing infrastructure including the Catapult Operations Centre (IOSCC) and CS-1 Ground Segment; defining the development roadmap required to establish a cost-effective and scalable ground segment.
UNDERSTANDING GROUND SEGMENT
A spacecraft system can consist of many various areas, the ground segment is widely considered as ground-based elements of a space system used by both the operators and support personnel. The terminology of the ground segment helps to provide differentiation between various other elements of the whole spacecraft system i.e the space segment and the user segment. The ground segment is fundamental to ongoing operational aspects through the enablement of payload, telemetry, and management of the satellite.
This flagship mission looks set to revolutionise the space ecosystem in the UK. The clearing of the LEO environment with active removal (CLEAR) mission is a catalyst for the development of commercially viable active debris removal and in orbit services too.