Space Junkies – How AEON is helping to clean up space debris

02.12.2019Space Junkies – How AEON is helping to clean up space debris

Fact: The space around our planet is littered with junk left by more than 5,250 rocket launches. Since space exploration began 60 years ago with the launch of Soviet Sputnik 1 in 1957, space has become increasingly crowded with space debris.

Why do we need to remove space debris?

The need to remove debris from space therefore is no longer a choice, but a necessity. To-date 9,000 satellites have been launched, 2,000 currently active and approximately 3,000 still orbiting as unusable and uncontrollable debris. According to statistics published by the European Space Agency in January 2019, there are 34,000 objects >10cm; 900,000 objects from 1cm to 10cm; and 28 million from 1mm to 1cm.

As space debris accumulates, there’s an increasing likelihood that some of it will collide with operational satellites with disastrous consequences. One small speck of paint can damage a solar array and potentially cause a satellite to malfunction, so it is important to minimise the amount of small debris by ensuring larger objects do not collide in the first place.

What is AEON doing to help?

The specialist analysis and systems engineering services of AEON Engineering are assisting the Satellite Applications Catapult and Astroscale in combating the problem of space junk by engaging in an analysis of the UK’s National In-Orbit Servicing Control Facility. This state-of-the-art facility, developed by Astroscale and the Satellite Applications Catapult is funded by InnovateUK and will act as the control centre for major future satellite servicing missions. 

The RAMS (Reliability, Availability, Maintainability and Safety) 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, satellite missions in real-time.

How is space debris removed?

The first planned mission to use the In-Orbit Servicing Facility will be Astroscale’s End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration (ELSA-d) mission, scheduled for launch in 2020. ELSA-d will demonstrate pioneering technologies using a ‘Chaser’ and a ‘Target’ satellites which will be launched together from the same rocket. Once in orbit, the Chaser will search, identify, rendezvous and dock with the Target satellite in a series of demonstrations using a magnetic docking mechanism. The Chaser and Target satellites will both de-orbit at the end of the mission, resulting in the safe removal of a satellite as it burns up during re-entry.

The management and removal of space debris is currently a high priority for national space agencies and commercial players, and ensuring the highest quality facilities are used for controlling satellites is of immense importance to the smooth delivery of these missions.

Get in touch

Got a question about the work we're doing? Get in touch with the AEON team through our contact page or find us on Twitter or LinkedIn. Keep up to date with the latest news and insights at the AEON blog.