Europe wants its autonomy and funds an unprecedented demonstration mission in orbit

The European Commission and Thales Alenia Space took advantage of 73And International Astronautical Congress to announce the EROSS IOD program, dedicated to in-orbit services. This program aims to validate, through a first European demonstration mission expected by 2026, the technologies necessary for future robotic assistance operations in orbit. Explanations by Sabrina Andiappane, in-orbit services manager of Thales Alenia Space.

Technological advances in autonomy and robotics are the basis for the development of services to satellites in orbit (Assistance in orbit). These maintenance and logistics activities are aimed at supporting the operation of satellites directly in orbit, in order to extend their operational life and offer new possibilities in fleet management for satellite operators. In the near future they will also be used for the deorbitation of disused satellites and for the management of space debris. In-orbit service spacecraft represent a true paradigm shift for the space sector: future systems may be served in orbit and will continue to evolve over time. The satellites of the future can thus be designed in a completely different way and adapted to evolve over time.

It is in this context and to promote the development of satellite maintenance and support the European in-orbit services industry that the European Commission has launched the EROSS IOD in-orbit services program. (European Robotic Orbital Support Services In Orbit Demonstrator). This program will be carried out by Thales Alenia Space, head of a consortium of 17 European companies. It aims to ” validate, througha first European demonstration mission is plannedby 2026, the technologies needed for future robotic operations ofassistance in orbit, such as rendezvous, capture, lstowage, replenishment and exchange of payloads da satellite explains Sabrina Andiappane, Head of In-Orbit Services at Thales Alenia Space. β€œThe goal is that after the demonstration mission, the in-orbit service vehicle will be available for future customers. “

Services to satellites in orbit: Europe needs a second generation vehicle

The idea is to skip the step of ” space tug (space tug) and aim for a more advanced vehicle capable of interacting with the target satellite “In practice, the mission plans to launch two satellites: a 500 kg to 1 ton “servicer” and a 300 kg “client” satellite “. Among the technologies necessary for the mission, Thales Alenia Space” will develop, among other things, sensors and sensors as well as a guidance, navigation and control (CNG) system that will allow it to approach the target satellite in complete autonomy “. the to serve (space convenience store) will be equipped with a robotic system consisting of a capturing arms and pincers permittingintercept our target in orbit, provided by the DLR Institute ”. As for the target satellite, ” will simulate a satellite not prepared for in-orbit service and a prepared satellite with interfaces formooring, refueling and data and power connection “.

Did you know ?

In February 2020, the space tug MEV-1 and the Intelsat 901 satellite ushered in a new era of commercial satellite operations by demonstrating that it was possible to extend the life of satellites, despite not being designed to undergo service operations.

The two satellites will carry out a series of maintenance and service activities in order to demonstrate what is possible to do with these two configurations “. With the” satellite unprepared “, the to serve will demonstrate its ability to capture it in different places while with the “prepared satellite”, it will demonstrate that it is possible to reach ” more advanced services such as the refueling and installation of additional loads that allow the increase of certain performances, or even the addition of certain functionalities “. This payload, which will be transferred and put into service on the target satellite, subject of a call for ideas issued by the European Commission “. Different loads are possible such as, for example, a camera, a tool or even a technological demonstration.

Uncertainty in the choice of orbit

This mission will be carried out in both low and geostationary orbit. ” This point is still debated. “While operators of telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbit have a clear commercial interest in extending the life of their satellite, in low orbit the satellite maintenance market could be held back by the multitude of small, cheap and disposable satellites in the constellations. but there are observation satellites that are customers like commercial satellites.

The servicer will remain in orbit for ten years in order to provide its services to commercial customers

To understand the uncertainty about the choice of orbit, you should know that at the end of its demonstration mission, the ” to serve will remain in orbit for ten years to provide its services to commercial customers who wish to extend the life of their satellite or de-orbit it “. If the market to serve it is mainly located 36,000 kilometers from Earth, so there is an interest in the demonstration mission taking place in this orbit. ” We will make a decision on the location of the mission with the European Commission by the end of the year.

Maintenance of satellites in orbit could be a space deterrent

The end of the mission to serveit differs depending on whether it is in low or geostationary orbit “. If it is a few hundred kilometers from Earth,” will be desorbed “. in reverseif it is in a geostationary orbit, it will be ” placed in a parking orbit or will join the geostationary satellite graveyard “As for the target satellite, at the end of its mission, it will be disorbed by the manager “.

This pioneering mission could pave the way for ” a fleet of satellites for in-orbit services more advanced than first-generation space tugs “. It should also encourage satellite manufacturers to take into account its technological advances and prepare their satellites accordingly.” providing docking and refueling interfaces and data and power connections to add payloads “This mission paves the way for future robotic exploration missions that could take place around the moon by imagining scalable systems using space robotics.

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