Nebula Public Library

The knowledge bank of ESA’s R&D programmes

Innovative service oriented approach to the procurement and development of an active debris removal demonstration mission

Programme Reference
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The overall rationale for such a study has been driven by two factors. Firstly the unexpected on-orbit failure of the Envisat mission in 2012, has now created a specific and immediate ‘debris problem’ for ESA. Secondly, the number of and density of damaging space debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is predicted to rise in the future, which has the potential to negatively constrain future space operations for all operators and users. This later point is the so-called Kessler Syndrome, a phenomenon predicted to occur in LEO, whereby self sustaining collisional cascading will occur, leading to a runaway growth in the debris population.
Such collisional cascading is ultimately driven by the presence of large uncontrolled debris such as rocket bodies (R/B) and satellites that are no longer controlled. These act as ‘mass reservoirs’ holding the potential to release thousands of dangerous new fragments if they are involved in a catastrophic collision with another object. These fragments can then go on and become progenitors for further collisions, leading to even more fragment production.

Executive summary