Application Context and Needs

Since the late 1990s, In-Orbit Services have been mainly reserved for very high-value missions such as HUBBLE Space Telescope or the International Space Station. These services already included repair, replacement, robotic operation (with Man in the Loop). However, the cost of such a mission was several 100 M€, making it reserved to above 1B€ space assets. The recent technologies evolutions: robotics, autonomy, in space processing capability supporting real-time image processing have enabled to decrease significantly the cost of these functions making them attractive for medium and large satellites, typically such as GEO-Telecommunication or Earth Observation satellites such as in Europe the Meteo-satellite (in GEO or LEO), the environment monitoring or imaging satellites. An additional evolution is an electric propulsion, enabling a servicer to travel between orbits and thus access larger potential customers.

Recent contracts signed in the past years for life extension using a tug (a service module capturing the customer satellite) by US prime contractors demonstrate both this cost reduction but also the growing interest of the operators. Requests for information from customers also confirm this market interest. Market needs are driven by:

- The need for flexibility and evolutivity of space system to keep with technological evolution

- The more sustainable use of space approach, leading to prefer upgrade of a spacecraft, than launching a new one.

- Other aspects, including sustainability, the end of life withdrawal to prevent space debris expansion, threatening the space systems.

Northrop Grumman, US major prime in charge of logistic services for the international space station, has initiated the first commercial mission toward commercial operators.

Very recently, on February 26th 2020, Northrop Grumman servicer vehicle MEV-1 successfully docked into Intelsat 901 satellite to extend its lifetime. This is the first step to show the feasibility of on-orbit servicing, paving the way for a viable commercial service through massive internal investments (reported between 100 and 200M$). © Northrop Grumman MEV-1

This emergence of US service operators shows the urgency for Europe to invest in developing these capabilities, but not only to catch up but also to prepare the next generation of cooperative services. In Europe, the development of such capabilities was initiated with EROSS, ground demonstrator of cooperative in-orbit services. Before the closure of EROSS, its follow-up project - EROSS+ took birth. The demonstration in orbit of servicing and assembly operations is a must to ensure Europe’s capabilities in this domain, aiming to provide a competitive offer that would fulfil the market expectations. As proven on the recent worldwide public telecommunication market, the European Satellite Integrators are highly competitive, with a business capture of 60% of the GEO offers, thanks to European suppliers’ competitive designs. The same success story might apply for servicing, provided that EU solutions do not come too late.

Preparing the right technologies that will enable an on-orbit servicing demonstration mission in 2025 is the primary purpose of EROSS+.

In this sense, the project will design the proper mission and identify and develop the critical technologies necessary to ensure the IOD leveraging on all the European initiatives. Furthermore, these technologies will also open the door to space exploration missions, especially all the future lunar missions surrounding the gateway (the next space station orbiting the Moon).

A new space ecosystem will be fostered, and designing the proper demonstration mission is the key to European success. This will pave the way for both institutional and commercial applications. EROSS+ leverages on the previous Operational Grant n°7 (OG7) EROSS that integrates and improves the previous SRC building blocks for on-orbit servicing missions but also on PULSAR (OG8) and MOSAR(OG9) where Thales Alenia Space performed the mission design.

EROSS+ answers to the Operational Grant n°12/13 (OG12/13) in the PERASPERA D3.3 Compendium of SRC activities (for call 3 2020) and will be part of the Strategic Research Cluster (SRC) on Space Robotics that closes the H2020 calls on this topic following the 2016 and 2018 calls.

The demonstration of space robotics is a significant stepping stone for the future of on-orbit operations and key to paving commercial services. EROSS+ aims at designing the proper demonstration mission.

The overall goal of EROSS + is to ensure the competitiveness of Europe in this on-orbit servicing field and to define a demonstrator with maximum flexibility to be able to propose a disruptive approach for new commercial opportunities in space exploitation.

EROSS+ will assess the feasibility, perform the design and identify key technologies to mature to achieve this demonstration.  


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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No.101004346.