The ESA (European Space Agency) decided to change the concept of the active e.Deorbit demonstration mission to eliminate space debris. Now their apparatus will become a multipurpose tool that can also be used to refuel, restore or recharge satellites.
Representatives of ESA announced the decision about the change of objectives last month. What was the reason? Money! It is extremely difficult to collect a sufficient amount for a project that will only deal with the purification of near-earth orbit.
Initially, in the e.Deorbit project, the engineers wanted to remove the non-functioning Envisat satellite from a low earth orbit. It weighs 8 metric tons and resembles a double-decker bus. He stopped working in April 2012 and is considered one of the most dangerous elements in orbit.
An experiment with a robotic arm watching a dead satellite demonstrated a navigation system for the ESA e.Deorbit mission. It was created to solve the problem of space debris.
ESA researchers looked at various technologies, including the net and the harpoon, to catch and remove a satellite. But the sponsors did not show economic interest in such a unidirectional mission, so they decided to complicate the project. In fact, now they are planning to create a kind of “Swiss Army Knife” at ESA, namely, a multifunctional system capable of performing various tasks in orbit. The researchers used detailed software models of the satellite to understand how best to turn the device into an autonomous vehicle with the presence of large functionality. In such a case, the elimination of space debris will be only one of the potential applications of the spacecraft.
Such complex tasks cannot be made a network or a harpoon, so the ESA decided to create a universal robotic arm. The agency spent about $ 10 million to develop a multi-purpose robotic manipulator. The final mission should cost 300 million euros.
For the first time, the finished device can appear only in 2025. Despite the economic inexpediency, the mission to remove debris from orbit is an important project. If you do not deal with the problem, the dead satellites will begin to collide, running a chain reaction. Then no rocket will be able to break away from the Earth with guaranteed security.