OrbitalHub

The place where space exploration, science, and engineering meet

 

Credits: NASA

 

 

As mentioned in a previous post, only a small fraction of the existing space debris population is detectable and tracked by ground systems. A smaller fraction is catalogued by special programs and/or departments of national space agencies. This is where statistics comes into play. Numerous models have been created in order to assess present collision risks associated with certain orbits and to predict future evolution of the debris environment around Earth.

 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has developed two categories of applications for modeling of space debris environment and risk analysis. The first category, based on evolutionary models such as NASA’s long term debris environment evolutionary model (LEO-to-GEO Environment Debris model or LEGEND), are designed to predict the evolution of the debris environment.

 

These models cover the near-Earth space between 200 km and 50,000 km, provide space debris characteristics for a debris population consisting of particles as small as 1 mm, and have a typical projection period of 100 years. The second category, which consists of engineering models like ORDEM2000, is used for debris impact risk assessment for spacecraft and satellites, and also as benchmarks for ground-based debris measurements and observations.

 

The European Space Agency (ESA) has a different set of tools used for modeling the space debris environment and assessing risk associated with collisions in Earth orbit. The DISCOS database (the Database and Information System Characterizing Objects in Space) consolidates the knowledge on all known objects tracked since Sputnik-1, and it is recognized as a reliable and dependable source of information on space objects in Earth orbit. MASTER (Meteoroid and Space Debris Terrestrial Environment Reference) is the agency’s most prominent debris risk assessment tool, which uses statistical methods to determine the impact flux information from all recorded historic debris generation events. ESA also uses DELTA (Debris Environment Long-Term Analysis) to conduct analysis of the effectiveness of debris mitigation measures on the stability of the debris population. Such analysis can cover 100 to 200 year time spans.

 

 

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09-11-10

Proba-3

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Credits: ESA

 

Formation flying has been a field of study since the beginning of the manned space flight. The final lunar spacecraft of the Apollo program had to be assembled in orbit. Also, docking maneuvers were required during the Skylab missions from 1973 to 1979.

 

The current focus of spacecraft formation flying is on maintaining a formation of various spacecraft. Maintaining the relative position of a cluster of satellites in orbit is much more challenging than having two or more spacecraft docking, as the first is more sensitive to modeling errors.

 

ESA’s Proba-3 will be the demonstrator for the technologies required for formation flying of multiple spacecraft.

 

 

The two independent, three-axis stabilized spacecraft comprising the Proba-3 mission will form an external coronagraph. An external coronagraph is a much more effective instrument than a terrestrial coronagraph, as the complete absence of atmosphere eliminates the glare that affects the observations from the ground.

 

By maintaining an accurate relative position, one of the spacecraft will block the direct light from the Sun so that the solar corona can be observed by the instruments mounted on the other. It is expected that the two spacecraft will be capable of positioning relative to each other with a sub-millimeter accuracy over a separation range of 25 to 250 meters. This positioning will be made possible by using S-band radio metrology and optical laser techniques.

 

You can find out more about the Proba-3 mission on ESA’s website.

 

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09-7-10

How Tough is Life in LEO?

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Credits: NASA

 

In a nutshell, it is really tough! The higher you go, more bad things can happen to you… the increasingly rarefied air, freezing temperatures, ionized atoms, radiation, and space debris make life challenging. So, besides thinking of how to place spacecraft in orbit, engineers must consider all of the factors mentioned above (and much more) when designing a spacecraft.

 

 

The space environment (the vacuum, the radiation, the space debris, etc.) definitely poses big challenges to spacecraft design engineers. From 1971 to 1989, more than 2,700 spacecraft anomalies related to interactions with the space environment were recorded. These interactions with the space environment are called space environment effects and the changes in the space environment define what is called the space weather. Believe it or not, there are dedicated programs aimed at developing the ability to predict these changes in the same way the weather forecasting does for terrestrial weather. The Space Weather program was formed in the mid-1990s by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Europeans developed a similar program under the umbrella of the European Space Agency (ESA).

 

The space environment effects can be grouped into several categories. Such categories include: vacuum, neutral, plasma, radiation, and micrometeorid/orbital debris. So, basically, we can discuss the effects of the vacuum environment, the neutral environment, etc. Each one of these environments interact with the subsystems that comprise a spacecraft: the propulsion system that provides the means of maintaining a certain orbit or attitude, the electrical power system that provides power to the rest of the subsystems onboard, the thermal control system, the attitude and orbital determination and control system, etc.

 

The vacuum environment imposes challenges when it comes to designing the structure, choosing the materials, and defining a strategy for thermal control. The pressure differential between the inside and the outside of a manned spacecraft is tremendous (around 350 km above the surface of the Earth, the pressure is ten orders of magnitude less). The lack of atmosphere translates into the fact that the spacecraft will have to deal with solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation (the UV radiation is energetic enough to degrade material properties). Also, the spacecraft can only cool itself by conduction or radiation.

 

Credits: NASA

 

Even if very rarefied, the neutral atmosphere in low Earth orbit is dense enough to cause a significant atmospheric drag force. The atoms can physically sputter material from surfaces and even cause erosion. All these mechanical and chemical interactions depend on the atmospheric density.

 

In low Earth orbit, the solar UV radiation ionizes the oxygen and nitrogen atoms. This environment, known as the plasma environment, can give rise to very interesting effects, like spacecraft charging and arcing between regions of differing potentials.

 

 

By far, the most dangerous environment in Earth orbit is the radiation environment. In the regions of charged particles, known as trapped radiation belts, particles with energy levels in the order of MeV pass through the surface layer and interact with the materials inside the spacecraft. Present shielding technology cannot protect living organisms inside a spacecraft in these regions.

 

Micrometeoroids and orbital debris are a cause of great concern to spacecraft design engineers and spacecraft operators as the kinetic energies associated with impacts at orbital velocities are very high. The main effect on spacecraft in this case is the physical damage upon impact. Other effects include surface erosion, ejecta resulted from impacts, changes in thermal control properties, and generation of electro-magnetic impulses (EMIs).

 

As most of the characteristics of the space environment were determined by remote observations or during short duration missions, one long duration mission was necessary to verify and validate these measurements.

 

In April 1984, the Space Shuttle Challenger placed into low Earth orbit (LEO) a spacecraft carrying a number of experiments for the purpose of characterizing the low Earth orbit environment. The spacecraft (known as the Long Duration Exposure Facility, or LDEF for short) was a twelve-sided cylindrical structure three-axis stabilized in order to ensure an accurate environmental exposure. The spacecraft was supposed to spend one year in orbit, but just before the planned retrieval, the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded as a result of the Challenger accident on January 28, 1986.

 

The spacecraft was returned to Earth by the Space Shuttle Columbia in January 1990. After almost six years in low Earth orbit, the results of the experiments onboard the facility contributed a great deal to the understanding of interactions between artificial objects and the environment in low Earth orbit.

 

You can find all the above in much more detail in Alan Tribble’s book The Space Environment – Implications for Spacecraft Design. Alan Tribble presents an excellent account of the effects the space environment can have on operational spacecraft. The book offers a unique perspective, as it combines the study of the space environment with spacecraft design engineering. .

 

Alan Tribble spent over ten years designing spacecraft. He is a technical project manager in the International Software Defined Radios group for Rockwell Collins.

 

 

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06-2-10

Mars 500 Update

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Credits: ESA – S. Corvaja

 

 

After a successful simulated Mars mission that lasted for only 150 days, the Mars 500 experiment will go to the next level: the 520-day mission. The hatch of the facility hosted at the Russian Institute for Biomedical Problems in Moscow will be sealed again tomorrow, on June 3, 2010.

 

 

There are six crewmembers selected plus a Russian backup: Diego Urbina, Romain Charles, Sukhrob Kamolov, Alexey Sitev, Alexandr Smoleevskiy, Mikhail Sinelnikov, and Wang Yue. The crew will live and work for 520 days inside the sealed facility in the same way astronauts live and work on the International Space Station (minus the zero-g environment, of course).

 

You can find more information about the Mars 500 project on the dedicated page on ESA’s website.

 

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02-21-10

CryoSat-2

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Credits: ESA – P. Carril

 

In 2007, projections of sea level rise made by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were in the range of 28–43 cm by 2100, but there are new projections of the sea level rise that are in the order of 1.4 m.

 

While the trend is quite obvious, it is very important to be able to make accurate predictions.

 

 

Cryosat has been designed to measure the ice thickness on land and also at sea, and will provide enough data so that a precise rate of change of the ice thickness can be determined. A better understanding of how the volume of ice on Earth is changing will also be possible.

 

The declared primary goals of the CryoSat mission are to determine the regional trends in Arctic perennial sea-ice thickness and mass, and to determine the contribution that the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are making to mean global rise in sea level. Cryosat will also measure the variations in the thickness of Earth’s polar caps and glaciers. The spacecraft will be operational for a minimum of three years.

 

Credits: ESA/P. Carril

 

The spacecraft has a launch mass of 720 kg, of which 23 kg is the fuel required for orbital maneuvers and attitude corrections. The overall size of the spacecraft is 4.6 m x 2.34 m. Two solar panels are attached to the spacecraft’s body and provide a maximum of 800 W of power. As the CryoSat-2 orbit is not Sun-synchronous, providing enough power to the scientific payload has been a considerable challenge.

 

 

The operational orbit will be a 717 km non Sun-synchronous orbit with a 92 degree inclination.

 

The primary payload of the CryoSat-2 spacecraft is the SAR/Interferometric Radar Altimeter (SIRAL). In order to have the position of the spacecraft accurately tracked, a radio receiver called Doppler Orbit and Radio Positioning Integration by Satellite (DORIS) and a laser retro-reflector are part of the payload as well. A global network of laser ranging stations (the International Laser Ranging Service or ILRS for short) will support the mission. Three star-trackers will ensure a proper orientation of the spacecraft.

 

Using the Synthetic Aperture technique, CryoSat-2 measurements taken by SIRAL will have a 250 m resolution in the along-track direction. The instrument is designed to operate in three measurement modes: Low Resolution Mode (LRM) mostly over the oceans, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) mode over sea-ice areas, and SAR Interferometric (SARIn) mode over steeply sloping ice-sheet margins, small ice caps, and mountain glaciers.

 

Credits: ESA – AOES Medialab

 

CryoSat-2 will be placed in orbit by a Dnepr launch vehicle. With a lift-off mass of 211 tons, Dnepr is 34 m long and 3 m in diameter, and has three stages that use hypergolic liquid propellants (N2O4 nitrogen peroxide and UDMH unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine). In addition, there are Dnepr configurations with a third and a fourth stage for missions that require more energy. The launch vehicle is based on an ICMB designated as SS-18 Satan by NATO. The development and commercial operation of the Dnepr Space Launch System is managed by the International Space Company (ISC) Kosmotras. Dnepr can lift 4,500 kg to low Earth orbit (LEO) or 2,300 kg to a 98 degree Sun-synchronous orbit. Among other satellites launched by Dnepr are Demeter, Genesis I, Genesis II, and THEOS. Dnepr, carrying Cryosat-2, will lift off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

 

 

The Rockot launch vehicle that attempted the orbiting of the first CryoSat mission, on October 8, 2005, failed to reach orbit. Due to faults in the onboard software, the second stage engine of the launcher did not shut down. The mission was terminated when the launch vehicle exceeded the flight envelope limit. The Rockot second stage/Breeze-KM/CryoSat stack crashed somewhere in the Arctic Ocean.

 

You can find more information about Cryosat-2 on ESA’s dedicated website. The Cryosat-2 mission EADS team also has a blog on EADS Astrium website. Check out the latest updates from Baikonur brought to you by Klaus Jäger (Astrium Spacecraft Launch Manager) and Edmund Paul (Astrium Spacecraft Operations Manager). A presentation of the SIRAL-2 instrument is available on Thales Group’s website.

 

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01-17-10

Sentinel

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Credits: ESA – P.Carril

 

The European Union’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative was born as the result of a growing need for accurate and accessible information about the environment, the effects of climate change, and civil security. GMES uses as its main information feed the data collected by satellites developed by ESA. Data is also collected by instruments carried by aircraft, floating in the ocean, or located on the ground.

 

 

GMES provides services that can be grouped into five main categories: land management, marine environment, atmosphere, aid emergency response, and security.

 

There are five Sentinel missions designed as components of the GMES initiative. These missions will complement the national initiatives of the EU members involved. The missions will collect data for land and ocean monitoring, and atmospheric composition monitoring, making use of all-weather radar and optical imaging. Each of the Sentinel missions is based on a constellation of two satellites.

 

Sentinel-1 is an all-weather radar-imaging mission. The satellites will have polar orbits and collect data for the GMES land and ocean services. The first satellite is scheduled for launch in 2012. Sentinel-1 will ensure the continuity of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) applications, taking over from systems carried by ERS-1, ERS-2, Envisat, and Radarsat. Sentinel-1 satellites will be carried to orbit by Soyuz launch vehicles lifting off from Kourou.

 

Sentinel-2 will provide high-resolution multi-spectral imagery of vegetation, soil, and water, and will cover inland waterways and coastal areas. Sentinel-2 is designed for the data continuity of missions like Landsat or SPOT (Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre). Each satellite will carry a Multi-Spectral Imager (MSI) that can ‘see’ in thirteen spectral bands spanning from the visible and near infrared (VNIR) to the shortwave infrared (SWIR). The first Sentinel-2 is planned to launch in 2013. Vega will provide launch services for Sentinel-2 missions.

 

Credits: ESA – P.Carril

 

Sentinel-3 will determine parameters such as sea-surface topography and sea and land surface temperature. It will also determine ocean and land colour with high accuracy. The first Sentinel-3 satellite is expected to reach orbit in 2013. The spacecraft bus has a three-meter accuracy real-time orbit determination capability based on GPS and Kalman filtering.

 

 

Sentinel-4 is devoted to atmospheric monitoring and it will consist of payloads carried by Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) satellites that are planned to launch in 2017 and 2024. Sentinel-5 will be used for atmospheric monitoring as well. The payload will be carried by a post-EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS) spacecraft, planned to launch in 2020. A Sentinel-5 precursor will ensure that no data gap will exist between the Envisat missions and Sentinel-5.

 

You can find out more about the GMES initiative and the Sentinel missions on a dedicated page on ESA’s website.

 

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