As a portion of the European Space Agencies’ ‘Leopard’ effort to clear dangerous space debris, Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) will be leading a partnership of professional space-related firms.

To benefit from the vast range of specialized skills required to undertake an effective ADR (Active Debris Removal) mission, the Leopard study will be managed by SSTL and then delivered by a partnership of top UK space industry and universities. NORSS (Northern Space and Security Limited), Satellite Applications Catapult, GMV NSL, The University of Surrey, The University of Lincoln, Airbus Defence and Space, and ClearSpace are all part of the Leopard collaboration.

In space, SSTL has a potential target. In 1996, SSTL’s Cerise satellite was the very first verified occurrence of a constructed item colliding with another in space. In 1996, a documented space debris object from the Ariane rocket collided with CERISE, marking the first confirmed incidence of collision between two things in space. The collision ripped a section of the satellite’s gravity-gradient stabilization boom off, severely damaging the satellite and jeopardizing its functionality.

According to the European Space Agency, each Earth-orbiting satellite undergoes two maneuvers every year on average, with the frequency of conjunction warnings growing over time. The recent Russian anti-satellite (ASAT) missile launch, which produced a cloud of fresh trash between 440km to 520km above the Earth, has pushed the issue of space debris to the forefront once more.

More than 30,000 made non-operational objects are currently tracked around the Earth regularly; even so, many millions of the minor objects go undetected, and since the UK relies on satellites for crucial national infrastructures like security, navigation, telecommunications, and weather forecasting, removing space debris and preventing further collisions between objects has become critical.

The Leopard research will define concepts for the de-orbiting two uncooperative United Kingdom space assets from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to demonstrate ADR techniques, as well as options for repurposing the chaser spaceship once ADR task is completed, such as the ability to be refueled after the mission is completed, allowing the satellite to be able to capture and also remove much more debris. SSTL has a variety of end-of-life spacecraft in space that might be chosen as objectives for the LEOPARD ADR project, giving them an advantage in terms of knowing more about the target spacecraft’s design and operating state, which is critical for an ADR mission’s success.

SSTL’s Managing Director, Phil Brownnett, remarked, “SSTL recognizes the risks of space debris.” “With our efforts on ADR demonstrator flights like RemoveDEBRIS and Astroscale’s ELSA-d, we are pushing new concepts as well as technologies capable of providing a landmark double Active Debris Removal flight for the UK.  We are dedicated to addressing the problem of space debris so that satellites can continue to operate securely and space missions can have a long-term future.”

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