by Staff Writers
Paris (ESA) Oct 31, 2014
Improved collision warnings for its Earth observation missions means ESA controllers can now take more efficient evasive action when satellites are threatened by space junk. ESA has signed an agreement with the US Strategic Command to improve data exchange between the organisations for supporting missions.
The tie-up will see ESA receiving higher quality and more timely space information tailored to its needs in exchange for sharing more accurate positional information of its satellites.
Engineers at ESA's Space Operations Centre, ESOC, in Darmstadt, Germany, currently control five satellites in low orbits and expect six more to join them in the next few years.
"The more timely and customisable data exchange enabled by this agreement will improve collision avoidance as well as launch and early operations for our missions."
ESA have already been receiving US data and predictions on possible 'conjunctions' for some time, but could not request customised data.
"We will now get clearly defined data upon requests we submit to the US Joint Space Operations Centre at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. We also look forward to faster responses," says Holger Krag, Head of ESA's Space Debris Office.
"In time-critical scenarios like a degraded orbit injection after launch or sudden loss of contact with one of our missions, there will be fewer formalities and shorter time until we get the data we'd like."
With earlier warning of potential close calls, controllers will be able to plan avoidance manoeuvres at the working level better. This will reduce the workload and allow collision avoidance manoeuvres to be merged with other, routine manoeuvres, cutting fuel usage.
In exchange for the improved service from the US side, ESA will provide information on planned orbit manoeuvres, which will allow fine-tuning of the US surveillance approach. This, in turn, will generate more accurate and updated information for ESA.
The more timely and customisable data exchange will improve collision avoidance as well as launch and early orbit operations by ESA.
ESA missions today perform four to six debris avoidance manoeuvres each year, and this number has been increasing.
The latest conducted by ESOC was performed by CryoSat-2 on 7 October, to avoid a fragment of Cosmos-2251, which collided with Iridium-33 in 2009.
"The predicted flyby distance was just 121 m, which is within the uncertainties of our orbit knowledge - so we had to get further away," says Holger.
ESA Space Debris
Space Technology News - Applications and Research
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