SENER coordinates the European Commission’s LEOSWEEP space project21/11/2013 (Spain)
The LEOSWEEP project (‘Improving Low Earth Orbit Security With Enhanced Electric Propulsion’), coordinated by the engineering and technology group SENER, has been selected during the last call of the European Commission’s 7th Framework Program. SENER will lead a consortium of 11 institutions comprised of companies, research centers and universities of the EU and Ukraine that will work jointly on the project during three years.
LEOSWEEP proposes a mitigation method for the space debris problem that currently orbits our planet. The total mass of space debris in the low Earth orbit (LEO) is estimated to be close to 2,500 tons. Approximately half of this mass corresponds to the last stages of launch vehicles that are clustered in high inclination orbital regions. If this situation is not remediated within the following years, this quantity will exponentially increase, creating a growing risk for current and future space missions. By deorbiting or repositioning accumulated space debris, certain LEO regions could be substantially cleared which will reduce possible risks of impact or collision with missions and satellites that are still in operation.
The solution proposed by LEOSWEEP is based on the Ion Beam Shepherd (IBS) concept, proposed in 2010 by the Space Dynamics Group (SDG) research team from the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM for its Spanish acronym). The IBS is essentially a ‘contactless’ actuation concept, which allows modifying the orbit and/or the attitude of a generic debris object (the ‘target’) using the momentum transferred to it by one or more ion beams produced by electric propulsion thrusters onboard a nearby spacecraft (the ‘shepherd’), and properly pointed towards the target by means of the shepherd’s attitude control .
The project consists of the preliminary design of the demonstration mission and its legal framework, the development of system simulators, including an advanced Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC) system, and ion beam models. A modified low divergence ion engine will be also developed and tested in Europe’s largest vacuum chamber facility.
SENER is the manager of the consortium of companies that participate in this venture, as well as the overall coordinator of the different activities to be developed in the project. From a technical point of view, SENER is responsible for the technical specification of the mission, system and related technologies, as well as designer of the control for the ‘shepherd-target’ system and the implementation of the GNC system simulator.
Likewise, SENER will be the company in charge of the design and definition of the technology development roadmap for a possible future demonstration mission to deorbit or relocate an Ukranian launcher last stage. All these activities will allow to assess the economic viability and legal framework for such a demonstration mission, helping in the definition of a cleaning policy in low Earth orbit. This new contract will therefore confirm SENER both as a center of excellence in GNC systems and as prime contractor, a reference position that SENER has attained in the European space industry after more than 40 years.
LEOSWEEP’s proposal obtained the best possible score (15/15) by the European Commission and its external advisors and evaluators.
With 45 years of experience, the engineering group SENER has become a global benchmark company in the Aerospace sector, among other fields of activity. SENER distinguishes itself for its continued investment in innovation and offers engineering and manufacturing services for the space industry in the areas: precision mechanisms, optical payloads and guidance, navigation and control systems. Currently, it is a leading company in Space, with more than 253 onboard equipment installed in 59 satellites or space vehicles, in which, to date, no failures have been recorded. This equipment has been supplied to space agencies in the US (NASA), Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA) and Russia (Roscosmos). In addition, SENER has succeeded in achieving a progressive increase in the level of responsibility, and at present the company takes on more and more complex systems, obtaining contracts of increasingly greater value.