Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


ADR1EN Report Summary

Project ID: 666758

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ADR1EN (First European System for Active Debris Removal with Nets)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2016-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Currently about 23,000 objects are tracked while orbiting near the Earth: more than 6,000 satellites have been launched during the Space Age, but less than 1,000 of these are still in operation. The rest are derelict and liable to fragment as leftover fuel or batteries explode.
Even if we do nothing, taking into account the number of objects already in orbit, the space environment might not be sustainable if no mitigation or remediation efforts are undertaken.
The project aims at catching the business opportunity generated by the need to increase safety of space infrastructures, which are menaced by the huge number of space debris lost in space.
The ADR1EN system will contribute to solve the problem of risk of collision against space debris by directly reducing the number of such debris.
We have developed and validated the following technologies in a parabolic flight experiment, through an ESA contract (4000109361/13/NL/RA) within the Clean Space initiative:
• Net simulation software
• Net ejector
• Capturing net
• Testing rig
• Acquisition system

The objective of the project is to develop and test in lab-simulated space operational conditions a scaled-up demonstrator of the First European System for Active Debris Removal with Nets (ADR1EN) and develop the necessary business and commercialisation plans to reach the market and boost the growth of our companies. The system will be pushed to TRL 7 to show its applicability to real cases and to confirm that ADR1EN is the cheapest and most reliable system for capturing free objects in space.
As a result, in line with the priorities set by ESA and NASA, the system will be cost-effectively used by a community of users to catch large debris in Low Earth Orbit region, representing a market worthwhile 450 MEuro, associated with the currently mapped 5,000 defunct satellites and related debris.
Thales-Alenia Space, one of the largest industrial players in the space industry, has expressed its interest in the system and will act as subcontractor, to complement our capabilities and facilities. Their role is fundamental to ensure that we keep the full control of IPR while involving a potential first user in the project, keeping maximum flexibility to sell or license the technology in the next commercialisation stage.
The full scale validation and demonstration of the system that will take place in the ADR1EN project will put us in a privileged position to compete in a rapidly growing market.
At the end of the project the ADR1EN system will be the first available tested technology for active debris removal.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

WP1: Net development
It deals with the design and manufacturing of a full-scale net, suitable for catching and maintaining trapped debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) environment.
The objectives of this WP are listed below:
• Definition of the net material
• Definition of the net architecture
• Definition of the interface between net and tether
• Simulation campaign to support full scale net design
• Development of the net closing mechanism
• Prototyping of the full scale net

In order to reach these objectives, the Work Package has been divided in 4 Tasks. Specifically:
• Task 1.1 Development of net architecture, material and tether interface (completed)
• Task 1.2 Simulation campaign to support full scale net development (completed)
• Task 1.3 Development of closing mechanism (completed)
• Task 1.4 Prototyping of full scale net (completed)

Significant results achieved:
• Analysis of low orbit environment and categorization of potential targets for ADR mission.
• Identification of potential targets both in terms of orbit and mass/geometry properties.
• Development of main net topologies and flexible and universal guidelines and methodology for individual net design.
• Detailed guidelines and methodology for designing the net and the tether for individual target debris.
• Net designs for the experiment.
• Design of net closing mechanism, which is a harpoon-shaped bullet.
• Selection of the net material: Aramid fibre as the best choice for the ADR1EN mission.
• Definition of an innovative double mesh net design:
o Light-weighted net with low volume;
o Robust central part to resist the debris impact;
o Improved capturing efficiency: large mesh allows the bullets to pass through and entangle.
• Analysis of aramid fibres mechanical properties through specific tests.
• Prototyping of six net samples:
o Hand-made Kevlar nets;
o Three nets for each size, to increase ground tests repeatability.

Deliverables submitted:
• D1.1 Development Of Net Architecture, Material And Tether Interface
It contains general characterization of low orbit environment, categorization and review of potential ADR mission targets, methodology to upscale the ADRiNET nets architecture, first iteration of developed detailed guidelines allowing to design the net for individual target, net and tether materials review, analysis and selection.
• D1.2 Simulation campaign to support full scale net design
It contains the description of the simulation toolchain used to support development of net design methodology, description of simulation methodology used, definition of simulation cases and simulation scenarios, description of materials characterization procedures and review of simulation results.
• D1.3 Development Of Closing Mechanism
It contains state-of-the-art review of closable nets in various applications, discussion of potential solutions for net closing mechanism for space debris capturing, rationale for using bullets with hooks as closing mechanism and detailed design of such bullet.
• D1.4 Prototyping of full scale net
It reports the results of the net design and developments process, the net simulation results for the proposed design, the manufaturing requirements, an overview of net manufacturers and finally a description of the net prototypes.

WP2: Ejection system development
It deals with the design and manufacturing of the net ejection system and of the tether mechanism that will serve as a connection between the net and the chaser. The design phase will be supported by a series of simulation, in order to tune the shooting phase parameters, in order to improve the ejector efficacy in capturing the desired target.
The objectives of this WP are listed below:
• Scaling-up of the ADRiNET ejector
• Simulation campaign to support the full scale ejector design
• Development of the tether mechanism
• Development of the full scale pilot ejector prototype

In order to reach these objectives, the Work Package has been divided in 4 Tasks. Specifically:
• Task 2.1 Upscaling of ADRiNET ejector (completed)
• Task 2.2 Simulation campaign to support full scale ejector development (completed)
• Task 2.3 Development of the tether mechanism (completed)
• Task 2.4 Prototyping of full-scale pilot ejector (completed)

Significant results achieved:
• Definition of the ADR1EN mission:
o mission overview;
o mission phases definition;
o mission duration definition.
• Definition of the requirements for the ejector design:
o mechanical requirements;
o thermal requirements;
o space available in the chaser;
o interface with the chaser.
• Design of the space configuration ejector:
o ADRiNET ejector upscaling and precise sizing of its components;
o cool gas generator to fill the pressurised gas container;
o vacuum is guaranteed inside the nozzles before shooting;
o detailed operational sequence.
• Design of the ejector prototype suitable for the ground tests:
o ground tests requirements definition;
o identification of the required modifications from space configuration design;
o identification of commercial components;
o pneumatic circuit;
o detailed operational sequence.
• Manufacturing of the ground configuration ejector.
• Simulating the ejection process for space conditions.
o Development of a methodology to select optimal ejection angle for certain net type and capturing scenario;
o Validation of the ejector design through simulations;
o Analysis of how nozzle orientation affects net ejection;
o Creation of a large database of simulated cases;
o Set requirements for the system to achieve quality net development and avoid contraction process;
o Estimation of required bullets ejection velocity for the space design to guarantee optimal net development;
o Determination of maximum mass of the net that the ejector can handle;
o Energy balance of the system studied to estimate correlation between crucial ejection parameters and net development efficiency.
• Simulating the ejection process for ground-test conditions:
o Evaluation of the effect of gravity and air drag on the net;
o Definition of the proper ejection angle for the specific ground tests case;
o Proposition of countermeasures to reduce wind effect. Correlation between main factors (net size, mass, ejection and wind velocity) has been found.
• Design of tether and spool mechanism:
o Space proven design;
o 2 independent reels, to host tether sections with different diameters;
o Reinforcement of first part of the tether with high temperature resistant ceramic yarn, to sustain thrusters high temperatures;
o Manufacturing of a shorter tether, better suitable for ground tests.

Deliverables submitted:
• D2.1 Scaled-up ADRiNET ejector
It introduces a reference mission profile and the chaser configuration, giving details on the main mission constraints; it presents the ejector up-scaling process and the details of the new ejector design.
• D2.2 Simulation campaign report
It describes the simulations supporting the full scale net and ejector design with the simulation software, the methodology for simulations, and presents the simulation results under different initial conditions and weather conditions.
• D2.3 Development of the tether mechanism
It reports the technical requirements, the description of the concept, an overview of rope manufacturers, the tether design for the ADR mission, the mechanical test campaign and its results, the detailed description of the tether mechanism design.
• D2.4 Full scale pilot ejector prototype
It describes the requirements of the ejector prototype, the required modifications to make it compliant with the ground test, the design of the ejector prototype, a detailed overview of the prototype manufacturing and its control system, the operational sequence.

WP3: System prototype tests in operational environment
It deals with the definition and execution of a series of tests on the ejection system prototypes and components, in order to verify and validate their resistance to operational condition in LEO environment. The tests will be performed in collaboration with Thales Alenia Space Italy (TAS-I), who will provide their PESCha facility for the scope.
The objectives of this WP are listed below:
• Preparation of a detailed test plan suitable for the PESCha facility
• Execution of tests on the net prototype and material in simulated operational environment
• Execution of tests on the ejector prototype and components in operational environment

In order to reach these objectives, the Work Package has been divided in 3 Tasks. Specifically:
• Task 3.1 Test plan (completed)
• Task 3.2 Net prototype tests (completed)
• Task 3.3 Ejector prototype tests (completed)

Significant results achieved:
• Establishment of an NDA with TAS-I
• Definition of the steps required for the tests execution
• Definition of a test plan, representative of the ADR mission
• Setup of the thermal vacuum chamber
• Test plan review before starting the tests
• Warm-up cycling of nets and tether mechanism
• TVC tests start
• Nets and tether have been successfully tested in the thermal-vacuum chamber at TAS-I simulating operating conditions during the mission in LEO.
• Visual analysis at the microscope have been performed on nets and tether, evidencing neither damage nor aging on the fibres.
• LEO compliance of the ejection system components has been proved.

Deliverables submitted:
• D3.1 Test plan
It presents the detailed plan for the Thermal Vacuum Cycling Test (TVCT) at TAS-I premises, the reference mission and temperature conditions, the test configuration, the test approach, the main activities.
• D3.2 Net prototype test report
It reports the detailed test sequence performed on the nets during the TVC test and the results obtained during and after the process.
• D3.3 Ejector prototype test report
It reports the detailed test sequence performed on the ejector components during the TVC test and the results obtained during and after the process.

WP4: Ground tests
It deals with the definition and execution of ground tests, where the ejection system prototype correct behaviour will be tested and corrected if needed. Due to the increased dimensions of the net, with respect to the ADRiNET project, a bigger and more complex test scenario will be developed.
The objectives of this WP are listed below:
• Definition of a ground test plan
• Development of the test rig
• Development of the acquisition system
• Ground tests of the ADR1EN system

In order to reach these objectives, the Work Package has been divided in 3 Tasks. Specifically:
• Task 4.1 Ground test plan (completed)
• Task 4.2 Development of test rig and acquisition system (in progress - 50%)
• Task 4.3 Integration and (not started)

Significant results achieved:
• Analysis of potential solutions and locations to perform the ground tests (captive balloon, tower crane, UAV, hangar, cherry picker)
• Selection of the final location of the tests, in Gdynia, using the local fire brigade truck at their premises
• Free-fall experiment implemented as simulation model
• Preliminary analyses to identify the ground experiment parameters
• Analysis of weather conditions to maximise the ground tests success
• Preliminary analysis of camera configuration and positioning
• Development of FPGA hardware accelerator for edge-detection algorithm, to be used for high speed image acquisition and processing during the ground tests
• Preliminary definition of interfaces between the ejector prototype and the truck basket
• Identification of solutions for ejection velocity measurements
• Definition of a detailed ground test plan
• Definition of requirements and roles during the tests
• Identification of risks and countermeasures
• Selection of the fire brigade truck, in Gdynia, for the ground tests.
• Definition of a detailed test plan:
o Test preparation (height, distance of the mock-up from the ejector, etc.);
o Test sequence;
o Different type of tests and measurement to be obtained;
o Team member roles and actions.
• Selection of the location of the preliminary experiments with the net 9x9m by using truck equipped with Teupen Euro B 25 T.
• Extensive development of simulation model for free-fall experiment.
• Simulations for all ground test cases has been done to evaluate its effectiveness.
• Preliminary simulations to understand the influence of wind on the net ejection and flight has been done. The importance of planning countermeasures in case of bad weather conditions has been highlighted.
• Selection of other possible ground test locations, in case of bad weather conditions in Gdynia.
• Design of a support structure to sustain the ejector, tether mechanism, cameras and lights.
• Design of the two debris satellites mock-ups, that will be used to perform the ground tests.
• Preparation of the acquisition software and testing of multiple lenses to guarantee an optimal test observation.

Deliverables submitted:
• D4.1 Ground test plan
It describes the strategy that will be used to test the ejector and the net on ground, reports the analysis of different potential scenarios to identify the best solution and location, and defines a detailed plan for the ground test.

WP5: Commercialization and replication plan
The objectives of this WP are listed below:
• Stakeholders identification
• Development of communication strategy
• Develop markets and marketing strategies including identifying target groups
• Outline financial arrangements including possibilities for cumulative funding, with relevant national / regional research and innovation programmes and/or European Structural and Investment Funds in connection with smart specialisation strategies
• Development of investor-ready business plan

In order to reach these objectives, the Work Package has been divided in 4 Tasks. Specifically:
• Task 5.1 Stakeholders analysis (completed)
• Task 5.2 Development of communication strategy (in progress - 25%)
• Task 5.3 Dissemination plan and activities (in progress - 80%)
• Task 5.4 Development of investor-ready business plan (not started)

Significant results achieved:
• Development of a scheme of the stakeholders involved in the ADR field, divided into three levels.
• Identification of most relevant stakeholders per each level and category.
• Analysis of interactions and tensions between stakeholders.
• Analysis of the process for implementing ADR.
• Establishment of contacts and meetings with the most relevant ones, which will be a solid base for the following market exploitation;
• Number of participations to events and appearances on the media, on relevant newspapers (Il Sole 24 Ore, the most important newspaper on economy in Italy) and TV shows (Sonda2, which scored an audience of 1.1 million people in Poland);
• Mr Franco Malerba, the first Italian astronaut, was assigned by the EC as our project business coach and has been supporting us in establishing contacts with relevant stakeholders and customers, aimed at the preparation of the investor-ready business plan, for the following market exploitation of the ADR1EN technology.
• Discussing our involvement in the Consolidation Phase of the e.Deorbit mission of ESA, which will be the first mission ever to actively capture a space debris.
• Mr Franco Malerba successfully finalized his task as our project business coach.
• Identification of the most used and successful ways of data gathering to collect information from stakeholders in order to develop the investor-ready business plan.
• Draft questionnaires, tailored on each stakeholder type, to be sent them to collect their feedback.

Deliverables submitted:
• D5.1 Report on stakeholders analysis
It contains the analysis performed to identify possible stakeholders of the ADR1EN technology, grouped into 3 levels,
describes interactions and tensions, reports the preliminary feedback on ADR received from stakeholders engaged thanks to our Business Coach Franco Malerba.

WP6: Project management
The objective of WP6 is to establish an effective coordination and decision structure that will adequately address the administrative and financial needs of the project. Activities will include as an overall: (1) to handle all administrative and financial procedures including the Consortium Agreement, general assemblies, partnership changes, regular financial reporting issues, etc.; (2) to closely coordinate all contractual and review procedures with the European Commission. The objectives of this WP are listed below:
• Project management
• Administrative management
• Financial coordination

In order to reach these objectives, the Work Package has been divided in 2 Tasks. Specifically:
• Task 6.1 Project and administrative management (in progress - 75%)
• Task 6.2 Financial coordination (in progress - 75%)

Significant results achieved:
• Signature of Grant Agreement (March 2015)
• Signature of Consortium Agreement (May 2015), reported in D6.2
• Definition of a Project Management & Quality Assurance Plan (May 2015), reported in D6.1
• Kick-off meeting held in Genova, at STAM premises, on 28-29 April 2015
• Mid-term meeting held in Genova, at STAM premises, on 11-12 May 2016
• Mid-term meeting held in Genova, at STAM premises, on 11-12 May 2016.
• Meeting with the Project Officer in Genova, at STAM premises, on 11 July 2016.
• Distribution of the pre-financing to the partners according to the Consortium Agreement
• Preparation of the interim financial report.
• Implementation of the Periodic Report.
• Distribution of the interim payment to the project partners, according to the claimed costs accepted by the EC.
• Update of the Description of Work.
• Implementation of the Project Amendment.
• Monitoring and control of project resources (personnel, finance, equipment, etc.)
• Monitoring and control of financial, administrative procedures and quality management of the project
• Direction and coordination of communication between the Consortium and the EC
• Proposal and implementation of mitigation strategies to alleviate the impact of delays to the project’s timescales
• Provision of templates for deliverables and official documents
• Identification of deviations and actions required with the EC
• Respect of the contractual frame
• Production of meeting agenda, reporting, meeting minutes etc.
• Preparation and review of internal reports

Deliverables submitted:
• D6.1 Project Management & Quality Assurance Plan
This specifies project management and quality assurance requirements and applicable standards and procedures during the project. It also provides editing rules and templates for deliverables and other documents within the project. Besides it also includes information about communication, reporting of activities, project meetings, templates, etc.
• D6.2 Consortium Agreement
The purpose of the Consortium Agreement is to specify with respect to the project the relationship among the partners, in particular concerning the organisation of the work, the management of the project and the rights and obligations of the partners concerning inter alia liability, access rights and dispute resolution.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Progress beyond the state of the art
Most of state-of-the-art solutions are focused on passive mechanisms: these devices are to be installed on satellites and capable to increase the surface and volume of the satellite, in order to increase friction with Earth atmosphere and reduce time to de-orbit. They require years to remove the satellites, leave the satellite completely uncontrolled and are applicable only to LEO satellites. Active technologies exist, which can be grouped into contact and contact-less, however to date no technology have reached the mature state.
This means that today there are no active solutions available, which are capable to de-orbit satellites and large space debris. ADR1EN will be therefore in a unique position to take advantage of the ADR business opportunity.
The novelty introduced by ADR1EN is a cheap and reliable system for capturing free objects in space using nets, with unique features:
• Increased mission time: using the device as an independent decommissioning means, the satellite could take advantage up to the last drop of propellant to make more business or operations in orbit.
• Controlled re-entry: ADR1EN, specifically designed for each mission, can offer the unique capability to re-entry the satellite in a well-defined safe area.
• Long lasting: the ejection system can be used in several missions – the operational life is estimated in 15 years.
• Customizable: ADR1EN can be customized for the specific target and mission, on customer’s request.
• Adaptability: ADR1EN can be adapted to virtually all size and motion configuration of space debris;
• Cheaper than other competing systems (such as robotic arms, tentacles, harpoons);
• Reliable as the proposed system will be supported by on ground test and simulated operational environment test.

Expected Impacts
Users And Market
From business point of view, various kinds of stakeholders are involved in active debris removal because space development and utilization activities are international and space is handled as common. In fact the volume of space around Earth as a whole is traditionally considered to be non-excludable and non-rivalrous, thus making it a public good, as from the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space of 1967, which states that outer space is free for exploration and access by all countries and is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.

Because debris is a product of human activity in space, it is concentrated in the most actively used regions (LEO and GEO), resulting in increasing risks of collisions with active spacecraft. This increased risk raises the private costs of operating satellites through greater expenditures of fuel and interruptions of mission from avoidance manoeuvres and, in the future, through increased production costs in designing and maintaining satellites. Taken together, these rising costs may make it financially unviable to perform certain types of space missions in the future, leading to a loss of social benefits.
Based on NASA’s LEGEND model, even if we do nothing, taking into account the number of objects already in orbit (more than 23,000), the space environment might not be sustainable on a business as usual basis if no mitigation or remediation efforts are undertaken. In fact, although these objects are spread out over a vast area, most of this space debris is concentrated in the most useful Earth orbits: LEO, MEO and GEO. Possibility of debris-generating is steadily increasing and we will soon face Kessler syndrome, where each collision generating space debris increases the likelihood of further collisions. This situation generates an unacceptable risk for space infrastructures, space services and human lives, both in space and on Earth.
With the growth of mobile phones, GPS and navigation systems, satellite television and radio broadcasting, meteorological and remote sensing data utilization, modern life depends in great part, directly or indirectly, by space segment services and applications. However, non-functioning satellites and their fragments, which have been left orbiting the planet for decades, pose a grave risk to the space technology that supports the current way of life. Reference studies from NASA Orbital Debris Office, ESA/ESOC and cross-checks led by other worldwide IADC delegations report the need to remove 10 large debris per year to stabilize the environment. Satellite operators, such as telecommunication companies, and space agencies, have therefore an urgent need to prevent collision between their operating satellite and space debris: a collision between a piece of debris and a satellite risks to damage the latter and, in the worst case scenario, to cause its loss.
ADR1EN can meet the identified users’ needs, by restoring the space environment to a controlled stable level, which can be steadily exploited by spacefaring parties, satellite operators and space agencies, ensuring operation of services and applications on the base of modern life.

Satellite operators (and Public Agencies) are nowadays spending up to 100 MEuro per satellite taking steps to avoiding impacts, assuring the satellite removal at end-of-life and monitoring costs during the satellite uncontrolled travel towards Earth.
ADR1EN can provide economic benefits for the users taking advantage of its debris removal capabilities providing the following beneficial services:
1. Stop increasing the concentration of large space debris in orbit;
2. Remove all the other objects with high collision risk orbiting around Earth.
ADR1EN is the perfect candidate to directly fulfil the first step: this will allow satellite operators to avoid extra-expenses due to debris collisions and make extra-money using the whole amount of propellant on-board of their satellites. The second step can be implemented incrementally. In fact the benefits of ADR can be appreciated only on a long term: about two centuries are needed to restore the space environment to a stable level, when considering 10 ADR missions per year.
Additional economic benefits are associated to the users of the services provided through satellites, whose global market is worth 3.9 Trillion Euro, when considering only the revenues of the telecommunication industry. More than 50 Countries operate at least one satellite (some as part of regional consortia), then the benefit would be worldwide.

Since at present there is not an ADR market, we can consider as a reference the satellite industry market, that represents a business of more than 190 Billion Euro per year, growing of 7% in 2012.
Space market is considered to be in its early stage, with a consistent margin of growth before reaching its mature phase. The average yearly market growth is nowadays about 14%.
This growth is sustainable only if appropriate ADR measures are taken. It is therefore foreseen a potential market for ADR1EN starting from 2 ADR missions per year, valued at 64 Million Euro per year (about 43 MEuro per mission), while it could reach 430 MEuro per year when involved in the removing the target 10 large debris per year. ADR1EN will take advantage of being the first demonstrated system in the sector of active space debris removal.

Satellite operators and space agencies are the targeted users of ADR1EN. They have in fact the urgent need to prevent collision between their operating space devices (e.g. satellites, telescopes, space stations, etc.) and space debris, which could cause its lost and finally the space environment to be unexploitable because of the Kessler syndrome.
Controlling the growth of the orbital debris population is a high priority for all the National space agencies and the major spacefaring Countries of the World to preserve near-Earth space for future generations. A specific target geographical area cannot therefore be identified. However the first target is represented by the major spacefaring Countries and their National space agencies. The contacts already established with ASI, CBK, DLR, ESA, NASA will be the prior channel to exploit the ADR1EN technology: subsidiary companies will be initially registered in Italy, Poland and USA; UK, China and Japan will follow. This is planned in order to ease the process of getting into the market of the major spacefaring Countries, to keep and exploit already established contacts and to pursue local national grants with the intent of increasing ADR1EN credibility for a faster go-to-market phase.

Relevance of the business project with regard to the strategy of the participating SMEs
The project is fully in line with the complementary businesses of our three SMEs and the long term joint strategy to deploy the first affordable solution to address a major EU problem in the space community with relevance at international scale.
The partners have already worked successfully to develop and validate till TRL 6 the net ejector concept of catching space debris (ESA Contract n. 4000109361/13/NL/RA) and identified in active debris removal a potential market to increase their business. Nowadays aerospace represent a key market for the partners and represents 20% of their turnover.
The market of active debris removal will be for the next years a niche market, and the collaboration with large companies as Thales-Alenia Space will accelerate the market penetration. The partners count on the fact that, being the first offering an operational active debris removal technology on the market, they will be in a position to cope with a rapid growth of the business.

Growth potential of the solution.
Environment projection graphs showing how the debris situation in LEO (the region of space, at altitudes between 800 and 1,200 km, where largest amount of mass is concentrated) will likely evolve in the next 200 years under different scenarios: even under the most optimistic assumptions (i.e. regular number of launches at 90% compliance with a 25-year lifetime or, alternatively, with 90% post mission disposal and without any new on-orbit explosions that cause further fragmentation), the situation will only get worse by the end of the 200-year timeframe.
A population of about 2,500 intact objects in LEO is nowadays considered the threshold of stability beyond which the amount of debris in LEO will continue to increase by itself. Estimates show that this threshold of stability has already been surpassed with the current number of intact objects in LEO reaching about 2,700.
It is estimated that currently an average of 72 new objects are injected into LEO each year. Active debris removal involves the removal of intact but non-functional and/or uncontrolled objects (i.e. defunct satellites and rocket bodies) from LEO. A lifetime requirement would provide a preliminary criterion for determining which objects are potential candidates for removal. Although active debris removal is an expensive option, making judicious choices as to what is (or will be) removed from orbit can make a significant difference to the risk of collisions. The focus should therefore be on removal of larger objects capable of causing catastrophic collisions and massive fragmentations in space. Active debris removal can be then a more efficient alternative as compared to launch rate and lifetime reduction, because the targets can be selected and optimized.
In order to return the LEO population to a stable level below the threshold of 2,500 intact objects the following scenario must be established: (1) the lifetime limitation must be kept at 25 years; (2) the total number of launches must be kept at 36 per year. Under such a scenario 10 objects per year must be removed by means of active debris removal in order to achieve the threshold of stability within a 200 year timeframe.
A Global Economic Fund for Space Debris Removal is going to be established to compensate those entities “licensed under an appropriate regulatory framework” to remove debris from Earth orbit. This fund would apply to all those deploying spacecraft into Earth orbit. Organizations launching satellites beyond Earth orbit would also pay into the fund. The money to capitalize this fund will be collected prior to all launches and is estimated to be on the basis of a 5% of mission cost (i.e. a third of normal launch insurance costs). The payments into the fund are actually modest when compared to the damages that will ensue once the Kessler syndrome stage is reached and debris continues to cascade out of control. Indeed payments for launch insurance operations over the last three decades have varied from about 6% to 20% of total costs. A 5% orbital debris fund is then considered to be acceptable.
The European lightweight launcher VEGA will be used for the mission: it was in fact designed to economically lift small payloads (1,500 kg) into polar LEO orbits. Besides the chaser is planned to be designed based on the PRIMA (Piattaforma Riconfigurabile Italiana Multi-Applicativa) platform, developed by Thales-Alenia Space for ASI (Italian Space Agency): its intrinsic modularity allow to adapt itself to a large variety of missions in LEO orbits with minor modifications.
Due to the novelty of the mission, a margin of 25% has been considered on the cost of the ADR1EN technology including the PRIMA platform. This makes a price to the public of an ADR mission of 42.2 MEuro.
Conservatively it is estimated an initial target number of 2 ADR1EN missions per year.
Even when considering optimistically to provide 10 ADR1EN missions per year, this would be still sustainable, since the total price for the missions (10 x 42.2 MEuro = 422 MEuro) is smaller than the planned ADR funding per year (450 MEuro).
If we consider that more than 100 satellites per year are planned to be launched in the next 15 years, then the size of the business for the project partners can strongly and rapidly increase.

The ADR1EN system has a very high market potential in consideration of the high TRL and the urgency and originality of the business involved. The spin-off company will offer the ADR1EN technology to satellite operators and space agencies, taking advantage of the international space debris fund that is going to be established to compensate “licensed entities” to remove debris from Earth orbit. The partners expect then to make money from:
- Direct sales of the ADR1EN technology to satellite operators and space agencies;
- After sale service and customer’s personnel training activities.
The business partners shall benefit of an increased turnover estimated in 36 MEuro per year for the exploitation of the ADR1EN technology:
A spin-off company, born from the partners, will be established. It is expected that it will initially sell 2 ADR1EN systems per year, reaching 5 ADR missions after 3 years. This will turn into an annual turnover of 36 MEuro and 6 MEuro gross margin. The Consortium Agreement will be based on the following pillar: STAM, SKA and OptiNav will equally own the results of the project, 30% each. The remaining 10% will be left for large space companies interested in the business. Thales-Alenia Space has already expressed its interest, however their role as subcontractors has been preferred as this would leave any further discussion and IPR implications to the end of the project. Licensing schemes in this respect will be properly considered.. This means that the net profit generated by the spin-off company will be equally split between the three partners: 2.6 MEuro per year.
In steady state, after the payback period, estimated in 2 years after the end of the project, the partners will increase their net profit by 870 kEuro per year. This will turn into a growth of employment for the spin-off company from 20 to 30 FTE. This value was computed on the base of an average annual cost of 80 kEuro per employee and standard 25% overhead costs.

Wider societal implications
Approximately 23,000 objects are tracked while orbiting near the Earth: more than 6,000 satellites have been launched during the Space Age, but less than 1,000 of these are still in operation. The rest are derelict and liable to fragment as leftover fuel or batteries explode. Although they are spread out over a vast area, most of this space debris is concentrated in the most useful Earth orbits, in particular LEO.
Even if we do nothing, taking into account the number of objects already in orbit, the space environment (at least in the most used Earth orbits) might not be sustainable on a business as usual basis if no mitigation or remediation efforts are undertaken. Possibility of debris-generating is steadily increasing and we will soon face Kessler syndrome, where each collision generating space debris increases the likelihood of further collisions.
The generation of new space debris such as fragmentation due to explosions or collision with small space debris can be suppressed by following design guideline. But collisions between existing space debris are uncontrollable and will generate more space debris. In order to suppress collisions between existing space debris, removal is the only solution.
From the technical point of view, one-by-one removal of small space debris is not effective. Although small debris might directly bring the risk of generating space debris, they are spreading all over the space and their number is too large to deal with. For this reasons, the target of the Active Debris Removal (ADR) is large space debris, such as upper stage of rockets or non-operational satellites. The ADR1EN system will contribute to solve the problem of risk of collision against space debris by directly reducing the number of such debris.
The project addresses not only a EU-wide challenge, but a worldwide challenge, represented by the risk of collision between debris and space infrastructures. The relevance of this matter to Europe is huge due to the large number of space infrastructures, including the International Space Station, the Galileo satellite constellation and the forthcoming Copernicus Earth-observation satellites. For this reason ESA has been supporting the development of this innovative technology based on the net capturing of space debris.

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