Space is getting congested – tens of thousands more satellites are expected to launch into low Earth orbit within the next decade. With this exponential growth in telecommunications comes a concern for potentially devastating collisions between operational and defunct satellites.
Astroscale Ltd., the UK and European subsidiary of Astroscale Holdings Inc. (“Astroscale”), the market leader in satellite servicing and long-term orbital sustainability across all orbits, today announced that the European Space Agency (ESA) has selected Astroscale Ltd., to lead a collision avoidance study that’s part of the Collision Risk Estimation and Automated Mitigation (CREAM) activities in ESA’s Space Safety Programme.
CREAM is designed to generate technologies for automated systems that can determine the likelihood of orbital collisions with greater accuracy, reduce the number of false alerts by allowing reduced time between manoeuvre decisions and close approaches, and finally to optimise manoeuvre plans that are uploaded to satellites.
A team of Astroscale-led experts, based in the UK and Europe, will focus on developing concepts using innovative tools such as inter-satellite links, large ground station networks accessible as a service, and on-board processing means to allow reducing the timeframe from alert to likely collision. The CREAM 2 study, valued at €800K, will recommend late commanding paths to allow for late decisions in collision avoidance, saving time and resource from unnecessary manoeuvres.
To help solve this challenge, Astroscale is partnering with GMV teams in the UK, Portugal and Romania to garner their expertise with on-ground and on-board collision avoidance processes and information sharing systems. In addition, OneWeb will share their expertise and insights on the specific methods and challenges in managing collision avoidance for large satellite constellations.
“In the next decade thousands of satellites are envisaged to be launched into orbit. This presents a major space traffic management challenge to ensure satellite locations are coordinated and that collision warnings, which will increase significantly per satellite, are handled in an efficient way,” said Dr Jason Forshaw, Head of Future Business (Europe) at Astroscale. “The CREAM 2 study will enable Astroscale, and partners GMV and OneWeb, to start developing techniques and prototyping software for making decisions on collision avoidance. We want all spacecraft to be safe and to reduce the growing costs of collision avoidance for all operators.”
The Astroscale-led consortium will review alternative and novel means of uploading commands to a satellite, such as expanding ground station networks, data relays or using a Galileo Signal-In-Space service. The study will also look at innovative techniques for data processing – such as onboard processing using GNSS sensor data – predefined propulsive manoeuvres, and onboard manoeuvre computations. The analyses will conclude by mid-2023 with recommendations on the most viable solutions to allow for collision avoidance late commanding.
Astroscale launched the first commercial in-orbit demonstrator ELSA-d at an altitude of 550km, where large constellations are already operating in a crowded environment. In parallel, the ELSA-M multi-client servicer is preparing for an in-orbit demonstration in 2024, as such the study will explore the option to use the ELSA-M in-orbit demonstration vehicle to test the performance of the best solutions developed in the CREAM 2 programme.
“Our ELSA-M servicer has a range of communication options on-board, high propulsive agility, good on-board processing capability and a sophisticated ground segment – all useful capabilities for a demonstration of innovative new collision avoidance technology in the next few years,” said Stephen Wokes, Engineering Director at Astroscale Ltd.
“This CREAM 2 partnership is key for GMV’s strategic roadmap because it strengthens our long-lasting partnerships with both Astroscale and OneWeb. It also represents another success for GMV in the frame of the ESA’s Space Safety program, where GMV is the main industrial player with more than 30 projects in the last decade, including its leadership of the CREAM 1 program activity,” said Mariella Graziano, Executive Director of Strategy and Business Development of Flight Systems and Robotics of Aerospace sector of GMV. “For CREAM 2, we will work with our Portuguese, British and Romanian GMV teams who share extensive expertise in collision avoidance services and operations as well as mission ground segment, on-board systems and automation definition, and development. The generation of new innovative solutions for autonomous collision avoidance, on-board and on-ground, will be used to ensure the safety, the security and the sustainability of near-future operations in space.”
“In the frame of CREAM we aim to develop the technology for automated collision avoidance to reduce the manual interventions needed,” says ESA’s Klaus Merz, Senior Collision Avoidance Analyst and Coordinator of CREAM. “We have therefore initiated studies investigating robust decision criteria and manoeuvre designs, improved means for coordination among operators of spacecraft, as well as ways to guarantee late access to spacecraft thus enabling later involvement of human operators and analysts and reducing false alarms.”
Merz concludes, “We’re glad to have found a strong team for the CREAM 2 activity. It involves partners which are both innovative and experienced in operating spacecraft fleets and ground segments of various kinds of size, complexity and automation level.”