The exorbitant team, in which SENER Aeroespacial and UC3M work within the European ETPACK consortium, will allow the satellites to be removed at the end of their useful life, instead of their current abandonment in orbit. The space tie produces a force that causes the re-entry of the satellite and its elimination in the upper layers of the atmosphere. Unlike conventional technologies, it does not need a propellant and works passively.
With the start-up of the new laboratory, the integration of the avionics system in the exorbitant equipment began. The consortium will have a first complete prototype of the equipment prepared by the end of 2022. It hopes to mature it in a subsequent project that ends with a demonstration in orbit at the end of 2024. The goal is to have an operating system by 2025.
Together with SENER Aeroespacial and UC3M, project coordinator, the ETPACK consortium is completed by the universities of Padua (Italy) and Dresden (Germany), the Fraunhofer Institute (Germany) and the Spanish company Advanced Thermal Devices. Furthermore, ETPACK has received the support of the Community of Madrid through one of its industrial doctorates.
ETPACK, a self-contained exorbitant kit
The main objective of ETPACK is to develop a self-contained exorbitant ‘kit’ based on an electrodynamic space tie. The small size kit will be mounted on future generation satellites. Once activated from the ground, the kit will deploy an electrodynamic tether that, interacting passively with the Earth’s magnetosphere, will produce a braking force that will lead to the re-entry of the satellite into the Earth’s atmosphere and its removal. The electrodynamic tie, a very thin aluminum ribbon about two centimeters wide and a couple of kilometers long, uses the plasma that exists around the Earth and the geomagnetic field to generate an electric current that, thanks to an electrodynamic effect, results in a force known as Lorentz braking.
The person in charge of integrating the avionics is the SENER Aeroespacial engineer Sergio Garcia González, who is studying a PhD in Aerospace Engineering at UC3M funded by the Community of Madrid and under the tutelage of Prof. Gonzalo Sánchez-Arriaga (coordinator of ETPACK) . García explains that “there are systems to deorbit satellites, but using conventional propulsion, which increases their cost. Because space debris is a growing problem, institutions such as the European Commission and the Community of Madrid encourage research to find low-cost alternatives that are effective. Our spatial mooring system could be one of these solutions ”.
The reality is that, at present, no country forces companies that launch satellites to withdraw them after the mission is completed. The system proposed by ETPACK aims to reverse this trend by providing a light, low cost and highly efficient system. The exorbitant kit will be able to communicate with the ground, stabilize a satellite of up to 1,000 kg and control the exorbitant maneuver to avoid possible collisions with other objects.
SENER and UC3M have a successful history of collaborations, among them HIPATIA , the evolution of the plasma helicon engine for propulsion in space; the development of photonic technologies; and a cubesat demonstration mission, among other innovations for the space sector.