CORDIS - EU research results

First European System for Active Debris Removal with Nets

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ADR1EN (First European System for Active Debris Removal with Nets)

Reporting period: 2016-10-01 to 2017-09-30

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.

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. Thales-Alenia Space, one of the largest industrial players in the space industry, has expressed its interest in the system and acted as subcontractor, to complement our capabilities and facilities.

The system has been 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.

The full-scale validation and demonstration of the system has been successfully performed putting ADR1EN team in a privileged position to compete in a rapidly growing market.
Today, ADR1EN system is the first available technology for active debris removal successfully demonstrated in full-scale ground tests and with a sustainable investor-ready business plan available.
WP1: Net development
It deals with design and manufacturing of a full-scale net, suitable for catching debris in LEO environment.
Significant results achieved:
- Net designs and material selection
- Design of net closing mechanism
- Analysis of net mechanical properties through specific tests
- Prototyping of nets

WP2: Ejection system development
It deals with design and manufacturing of net ejection system and of tether mechanism that will serve as a connection between net and chaser.
Significant results achieved:
- Definition of ADR1EN mission and ejector requirements for LEO
- Design of space configuration ejector
- Design and manufacturing of ground configuration ejector with tether and spool mechanism
- Simulation of ejection process for both space and ground-test conditions

WP3: System prototype tests in operational environment
It deals with the definition and execution of tests on ejection system prototypes and components, to verify and validate their compliance to operational conditions in LEO.
Significant results achieved:
- Nets and tether successfully tested in the PESCha chamber at TAS-I simulating operating conditions
- Microscope and contamination analysis of nets and tether
- LEO compliance of ejection system components proved

WP4: Ground tests
It deals with definition and execution of full-scale ground tests, where the system is validated and its performances assessed.
Significant results achieved:
- Selection of ground tests location
- Definition of detailed ground test plan
- Design and prototyping of test rig and image acquisition system
- Execution of preliminary functional tests to assess system performances
- Successful execution of final ground tests and results analysis

WP5: Commercialization and replication plan
It is dedicated to market replication activities, including exploitation and dissemination activities. The final aim is the development of an investor-ready business plan.
Significant results achieved:
- Development of investor-ready ADR business plan
- Identification of most relevant stakeholders and engagement
- Mr Franco Malerba, first Italian astronaut, was assigned by the EC as our project business coach and successfully finalized his task
- Preparation of questionnaires, tailored on each stakeholder type, and results analysis to derive business model key points
- ADR1EN project dissemination through multiple channels
- Final ground tests performed with large media coverage from radios and TVs (GP24, TVP3, Polskie Radio Koszalin, Kanal 6, Radio Gdansk)

WP6: Project management
The objective of WP6 is to address the administrative and financial needs of the project.
Significant results achieved:
- Monitoring and control of project resources, financial and administrative procedures and quality management of the project
- Direction and coordination of communication between the Consortium and the EC
- Provision of templates for deliverables and official documents
- Consortium meetings organization
Progress beyond the state of the art
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:
- Controlled re-entry: ADR1EN can offer the unique capability to re-entry the satellite in a well-defined safe area
- Long lasting: the operational life is estimated in 15 years
- Customizable: ADR1EN can be customized for the specific target and mission
- Adaptability: ADR1EN can be adapted to virtually all size and motion configuration of space debris
- Cheaper than other competing systems

Expected Impacts
ADR1EN can provide economic benefits for satellites owners taking advantage of its debris removal capabilities providing the following beneficial services:
1. Stop increasing the concentration of large space debris in orbit: 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.
2. Remove large dead objects with high collision risk orbiting around Earth: 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.
More than 50 Countries operate at least one satellite (some as part of regional consortia), then the benefit would be worldwide.

Wider societal implications
Approximately 23,000 objects are tracked while orbiting near the Earth, the majority of which is currently inactive. 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 ADR1EN system will contribute to reduce risk of orbital collisions by directly reducing the number of debris. The relevance of this matter to Europe, and worldwide, 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, which have a vital relevance for many critical earth activities.
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