085 - Navigation technologies for Shield nanosatellite

085 - Navigation technologies for Shield nanosatellite


One of the ESA’s accelerators for the usage of space is: 

  • PROTECTION OF SPACE ASSETS, to ensure resilient availability and functioning of space infrastructure on which Europe’s economy and society relies for day-to-day life.

According to the DoD Space Surveillance Network, there are ~34,000 pieces of orbital debris with diameter greater than 10cm. This is the portion of objects “tracked”. 

There are also ~900,000 objects between 1 and 10 cm and ~128 million pieces smaller than 1 cm. Due to the extremely high orbital velocities (26,000km/h), the debris poses a high risk not only for human space flight, but also for satellite operations in general.

The usual measure, against the risk of collision with 10cm objects, is to perform a collision avoidance manouvre. ISS is also protected against non-tracked 1 cm objects by shielding (with “Whipple shields”).

Complementary to the efforts of the Space Safety Program to deploy a constellation of satellites to statistically monitor the debris that cannot be detected from ground, in general, for the smaller objects, local dynamic protection could be established, taking inspiration from anti-missile protection weaponry (e.g. Patriot), UAV’s automated navigation technologies and sixth generation fighters “loyal wingman” conceptual design. 

Objective: Perform a system study on the navigation technologies enabling the design of a nano satellite that accompanies a master satellite, shielding it from small debris

Description of innovation/Tasks: 

Instead of making the entire satellite mechanically more resilient (impacting heavily the mass budget), implement sturdiness on a small moving and agile small companion, assuming availability, in the near future, of suitable materials and shapes to ensure that unacceptable fragmentation does not occur after the impact.

Study the design, development, operations of a (set of) slave inexpensive nanosatellite(s) which would fly along with a master satellite.

Main functions:

  • Formation flying with master satellite, communicate with it, maneuver to put themselves in the trajectory of the debris, calculated with imaging and processing done on board, integrating the latest automation, navigation and communication means from drone technology
  • Key features of nano-satellites (for which best effort assumptions will be taken in the study): sturdiness (composite, or other material, shield), rely on deflection or absorption, whichever provides more effective protection, maneuverability (gas jet only) also after being hit, capability to de-orbit or graveyarding, stripped-down to minimum, inexpensive 

The main PNT technologies to be designed are: time synchronization with the master, formation flying (relative attitude/positioning and navigation determination and control), perception of the surrounding environment, impact trajectory and relative attitude calculation, maneuvers execution, de-orbiting/graveyarding 

Expected output: 

Report identifying use cases, navigation technologies required for the function, design of shield nanosatellite and master satellite data interface, cost and schedule estimates. Contract will be implemented in Phases.