Nebula Public Library

The knowledge bank of ESA’s R&D programmes

Active Debris Removal for a small satellite mission

Programme Reference
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End Date

In recent years the concern about the future exploitation of space has been growing due to the risk that uncontrolled space debris poses to the space environment and therefore to the survivability of operational spacecraft. Two main regions of concern exist, GEO, where most of the commercial telecommunications satellites orbit, and LEO, where many scientific missions observing the Earth fly. Of special concern is the sun synchronous orbit, a natural resource of special interest for Earth sciences. The population of debris in this region has been growing, increasing the risk of a collision and hence the exponential increase in the number of debris.
One of the possible solutions to this problem is Active Debris Removal. Recent studies show that the situation could be contained if 5 to 10 debris objects are removed per year. According to IADC guidelines, initially those debris objects to be removed first should be the ones posing more risk, usually large objects (high mass, high surface, high energy).
The goal of the AnDROiD mission is to demonstrate the critical technologies that would be required for active debris removal missions. During the course of the project an investigation of the possible alternatives, technologies required and system level design for such a mission has been carried out, paying attention to the most critical technologies, namely the guidance, navigation and control system and the debris capture mechanisms (robotic arm and net system).

Executive summary