Dealing with Mission Critical Reliability Requirements

18.11.2019Dealing with Mission Critical Reliability Requirements

Space is littered with the debris left by more than 5,250 rocket launches since exploration began 60 years ago.

According to Dr Jason Forshaw, European R&D Manager for Astroscale, the first commercial space debris removal company, “From the Earth, you simply don’t notice the pile-up of trash that is happening in orbit. Every rocket launch and every end-of-life satellite adds more debris, and it’s rapidly reaching the point where orbits will become unsustainable. The space industry knows it’s a big problem and it is vital that we deal with it now.”


What are the methods of removing space debris?

To this end, Astroscale is developing two approaches to space debris: End-of-life services, and Active-debris-removal services. The first involves fitting a new satellite with a docking plate allowing a target to be captured and removed at the end of its life. The second covers removal of items already in space.


What is Astroscale’s ‘End-of-Life' Service?

Astroscale’s ‘End-of-Life Service' (ELSA) programme is a spacecraft retrieval service for satellite operators. Its demonstration project, ELSA-d, will launch in early-to-mid 2020.

It will see two small spacecraft launched together, a ‘chaser’ with a magnetic capture mechanism and a ‘target’ with a docking plate. The ‘chaser’ will rendezvous and capture the ‘target’ satellite, and the two craft will then be manoeuvred down into the Earth’s atmosphere where it will burn up on entry - a highly complex procedure that has not been done before.


What role are AEON playing?

This and future space missions will be controlled from the UK's new In-Orbit Service Control Centre (IOSCC), a state-of-the-art national ‘satellite servicing’ facility based at and run by the Satellite Applications Catapult, in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

To ensure that the existing facility infrastructure meets the stringent performance demands needed to communicate with, and control spacecraft retrieval satellites in real-time, Satellite Application Catapult have enlisted the specialist analysis services of AEON Engineering.

AEON’s analysis will involve reviewing the design of the existing facility infrastructure to ensure it meets the stringent performance demands needed to communicate with, and control, spacecraft retrieval satellites in real-time.

AEON’s involvement at this early stage is testament to the IOSCC’s understanding and recognition of the importance of reliability engineering, which will pay dividends during the steady-state operation of the facility.


At this stage, correcting design or integration issues is easy and cost effective compared to ‘quick-fixes’ later in the facility’s lifetime.

Having a detailed understanding of the facility, its sensitivities, strengths and vulnerabilities, will help strategic decision makers make objective decisions in the future when it comes to upgrades or decommissioning.

AEON is hoping their involvement at this pivotal stage will help the facility’s support program operatives in their advanced planning of downtimes, asset management and facility upgrades; and most critically, omitting if not significantly reducing knee-jerk repairs or quick-fixes.

If you think AEON could help you save costs early on in your next project, check out our services pages, such as Product Assurance, and get in touch.