ESA planning to investigate connection between debris removal and satellite service

The ESA has revised its e.Deorbit program to focus on the connection between debris removal and satellite service.
By Tyler MacDonald | Mar 22, 2018
The European Space Agency (ESA) is holding off on its campaign to send a 1,600-kilogram satellite into low Earth orbit to retrieve its defunct Envisat, according to Space News. Instead, it's going to study the synergies between the mission and satellite servicing vehicles through a revised e.Deorbit program.

"What we are implementing at the moment is a study to find out whether we should modify the mission design to make the vehicle more flexible and able to perform a variety of servicing missions including removing objects from orbit," said Luisa Innocenti, head of EASA's Clean Space Office.

Although the previous focus of the e.Deorbit program was developing robotic arms and nets to capture space debris, Innocenti claims that now "the baseline is the robotics arm because of the synergies with servicing, but the net is not abandoned."

"It remains a very valid back-up should the robotics arm capturing face some technical issues," she said.

The e.Deorbit program makes up a part of the ESA's Clean Space Initiative, which promotes innovation that is also environmentally friendly. Such innovations include spacecraft materials and equipment that burn up in the Earth's atmosphere and spacecraft propulsion systems that minimize propellant usage.

It also promotes the importance of the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee's guidelines, one of which is a recommendation that spacecraft in low Earth orbit reenter the atmosphere within 25 years of their mission's end date.

"We must implement the debris mitigation rules in a consistent way so in the future we stop leaving debris in space," Innocenti said. "Everybody looks at e.Deorbit because it's sexy. What is more important is to talk about future pollution because there is no point in removing a satellite today if tomorrow we launch another satellite which remains there."


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