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Space Debris Prevention for Small Spacecraft

Description:

Scope Title:

OnboardDevices for Deorbit and/or Disposal of SingleSpacecraft

ScopeDescription:

Objective: Develop low size, weight, power, and cost(SWaP-C) active and/or passive onboard devices for deorbit and/ordisposal of single spacecraft while also efficiently and effectivelyminimizing the probability of new orbital debris creation during thedeorbit or disposal mission phase.

While the challengesposed by space debris and the management of large constellations withinthat environment are a multidimensional problem with multifacetedsolutions, this subtopic scope focuses on technical solutions for thedeorbit and/or disposal aspects that relate to the safe end-of-lifeoperations of SmallSat swarms and constellations. The threats of spacedebris are increasing with the launch of multiple-satelliteconstellations, particularly in low Earth orbit (LEO). Currently, thegeneral guideline is that satellites in LEO must deorbit or be placed ingraveyard orbit within a maximum of 25 years after the completion oftheir mission [1]. However, on September 29, 2022, the FederalCommunications Commission (FCC) adopted a new rule to reduce thisrequirement to 5 years for U.S.-licensed satellites, as well as thosefrom other countries that seek to access the U.S. market [9,11].Therefore, spacecraft under 2,000 km in altitude will have to deorbit assoon as it is applicable, and no longer than 5 years after end ofmission. This requirement will apply to spacecraft launched 2 yearsafter the rule is approved. Up to the date of publication of thisreport, this rule does not specifically apply to NASA satellites thatare not licensed through the FCC. Current discussions at the Agency andFederal level are ongoing to determine the final policies [9,10].

With increased useof higher orbital regimes by small spacecraft and regulatory attentionon long-term debris concerns, it is critical that the small spacecraftcommunity responsibly manage deorbiting and disposal in a way thatpreserves both the orbital environment and efficiency of small missions.Development and demonstration of low SWaP-C deorbit capabilities thatare compatible with common small spacecraft form factors is required tomaintain the agility of Earth-orbiting small spacecraft missions whilecomplying with regulatory activity. These low SWaP-C deorbit or disposaltechnologies are being solicited in this scope. Furthermore, the activedeorbit and/or disposal device technologies based upon fueled propulsionsystems that make use of nontoxic fuels, "greenpropellants," are highly desirable technologies to reducecomplexity in the spacecraft vehicle integration process, to maximizelaunch opportunities, and to encourage a “greener”space domain. In particular, deorbit/disposal technologies that enableeven higher operational mission orbits than currently possible aredesired. Further, technologies that actively or passively enable deorbitor disposal are desired, with consideration of potential risk forcreation of new additional debris or conjunction risk—that is,technologies that provide active or passive management throughout thedisposal process to further protect against collisions and interferenceswith both active and inactive spacecraft and debris.

Clear keyperformance parameters should be given as a part of theofferor's solution. These performance parameters (e.g., SWaP-C)should be quantified, compared to state of the art (SOA), and put intocontext of a planned, proposed, or otherwise hypothetical mission tohighlight the advantages of the offered technology over SOA and otherproposed solutions.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of theProject: 2 to 5

Primary TechnologyTaxonomy:

  • Level 1 09 Entry,Descent, and Landing
  • Level 2 09.XOther Entry, Descent, and Landing

Desired Deliverablesof Phase I and PhaseII:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Software

DesiredDeliverables Description:
In Phase I, a contextualstudy to further understand the feasibility of the proposed solution isdesired. Ideally, Phase I would conclude with a basic proof-of-conceptprototype (hardware or software as appropriate). Critical requirementsand interfaces should be defined alongside refinements of the proposedkey performance parameters in Phase I. The Phase I effort should provideevidence of the feasibility of key elements such as cost, assembly,integration, and operations. The concept should reach sufficientmaturity to show strong feasibility for the defined mission environmentsand performance requirements. The prototype system design should reachsufficient maturity to define test objectives and map key performanceparameters (mass, power, cost, etc.) from the prototype to the flightdesign. Hardware development during the Phase I effort should provideconfidence in the design maturity and execution of the Phase II effort.Last, the Phase I effort should identify potential opportunities formission infusion and initiate partnerships or cooperative agreementsnecessary for mission execution.

In Phase II, furtherdevelopment and technology maturation is desired. Ideally, Phase IIwould culminate with Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5+ demonstrationof the proposed solution. Both Phase I and Phase II should be approachedwith focus on infusion, ensuring solutions are being developed with theproper requirements, interfaces, performance parameters, partnerships,etc., such that they, through a Phase III award or otherwise, could bedirectly applied to real spacecraft and real missions.

State of the Art and CriticalGaps:

The 2022 NASA State of the Art of Small Spacecraft Technologyreport [9], Section 13.0, Deorbit Systems, gives a comprehensiveoverview of the SOA for both passive and active deorbit systems. Thereport details drag systems, including tethers, the Exo-Brake, andothers. Drag sails have been the primary deorbit technology to date andhave been developed, demonstrated, and even commercialized/sold formission use. However, capability needs to continue to grow, especiallyfor higher orbital applications with considerations to minimize the riskof new debris creation during the disposal phase of mission, as well asfor more controlled deorbit and disposal. This subtopic, in the contextof SmallSats, is of high importance to the Small Spacecraft Technology(SST) Program, the Agency, and the Nation in helping avoid a world thatlives under the threat of the Kessler syndrome (i.e., exponential,catastrophic production of debris in orbit). Previous instances of thissubtopic were focused on drag sails, but more investment is needed tohelp build and expand the ecosystem to include other onboard deorbit anddisposal devices, as well as swarm/constellation managementtechnologies, to help mitigate the risks (including considerationsminimizing the probability of new space debris creation during thedisposal phase of the mission) raised by the anticipated launch of manythousands more satellites in the years to come, most of which will beSmallSats. As a result of most nontraditional deorbit devices,uncertainties exist related to when and where space objects will comeout of their established orbit due to natural causes (e.g., atmosphericdrag, solar pressure) or when deorbit is initiated. To achieve preciseprediction of deorbit trajectories and satellite behavior in that phase,improved methods of prediction and control are desired, possiblyincluding real-time, closed-loop modeling and/or control, and deorbitinitiation systems.

Relevance / ScienceTraceability:

With increased use of higherorbital regimes by small spacecraft and regulatory attention on short-and long-term debris concerns, it is critical that the small spacecraftcommunity responsibly manage deorbiting and disposal in a way thatpreserves both the orbital environment and the efficiency of smallmissions. Solutions are relevant to commercial space, national defense,and Earth science missions.

References:

  1. SmallSat by the Numbers, Bryce andSpace Technology, 2022. https://brycetech.com/reports/report-documents/Bryce_Smallsats_2022.pdf
  2. Orbital Debris Mitigation andChallenges to the Space Community, J.-C. Liou, Chief Scientist forOrbital Debris, NASA, 58th Session of the Scientific and TechnicalSubcommittee, Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, UnitedNations, 19-30 April 2021.
  3. U.S. National Space Policy,1988.
  4. U.S. National Space Policy,2020.
  5. Space Traffic Management in the Ageof New Space, Aerospace Corps, 2018.
  6. State of Space Environment, H. Krag,Head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, 25 June 2019.
  7. Space Traffic Management in the NewSpace Era, T. Muelhaupt, Principal Director, Center for Orbital andReentry Debris Studies, Center for Space Policy and Strategy, TheAerospace Corporation, Journal of Space Safety Engineering, Volume 6,Issue 2, June 2019.
  8. Process for Limiting Orbital Debris,NASA, 2012. https://standards.nasa.gov/standard/nasa/nasa-std-871914
  9. State of the Art of Small SpacecraftTechnology, NASA, 2022. https://www.nasa.gov/smallsat-institute/sst-soa
  10. Process for Limiting Orbital Debris,NASA-STD-8719.14C, 2021. https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/process_for_limiting_orbital_debris.pdf
  11. Operational Progress Update on theELSA-D Debris Removal Mission, Forshaw et al., 73rd AstronauticalCongress, 2022.

Scope Title:

EnhancedSpace Traffic Management Technologies for Small Spacecraft Swarms andConstellations

ScopeDescription:

Objective: Develop enhanced technological solutionsthat relate to the safe operations of SmallSat swarms andconstellations, with the aim of reducing the strain on space trafficmanagement architectures.

While the challengesposed by space debris and the management of large constellations is amultidimensional problem with multifaceted solutions, this subtopicscope focuses on enhanced technical solutions that relate to the safeoperations of SmallSat swarms and constellations, with the aim ofreducing the strain on current space traffic management architectures,particularly by removing the “human in the loop” andreplacing it with faster decision-making autonomous systems, improvingthe ability to track small spacecraft, especially just after launch andbeyond low earth orbit, and ultimately reducing the risk of collisionand the generation of orbital debris as a result of collisions withother spacecraft or debris.

As part of thisscope, the following technologies are being solicited:

  • Low size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C) smallspacecraft systems for cooperative identification and tracking:Development and demonstration of low SWaP-C and low-complexityidentification and tracking aids for small spacecraft that can bescaled, produced, and readily standardized under the paradigm of smallspacecraft ecosystems. With increased demands on existing spacesituational awareness capabilities, and with regulatory attention on thethreat of spacecraft that are unidentified, misidentified, or too smallto track, the small spacecraft community needs such technologies toallow the community to operate with lower risk to all spacecraft inorbit—without negatively impacting the efficiency of smallmissions—and to minimize the risk of space debris generation.There is a need for technologies that enable tracking and identificationimmediately following separation from the launch vehicle, as well astracking beyond LEO. Tracking options that are passive (work regardlessof functionality of spacecraft bus) allow tracking through demise andare thus preferable to solutions that require an operator to intervene,as most operators are not funded beyond the useful life of thespacecraft.
  • Low SWaP-C spacecraft systems for autonomousreactive operations of small spacecraft swarms and constellations:Development and demonstration of low SWaP-C small spacecrafttechnologies, such as sensors and coupled maneuvering systems, thatenable small spacecraft swarms and constellations to operate information, in close proximity to other objects (cooperative oruncooperative), or beyond where the capacity of human-in-the-loopcontrol will be required to process input onboard and execute correctresponses autonomously, ensuring the safety of both spacecraft andobject. Solutions should include the ability to incorporate currentconjunction assessment processes via the 19th Space Defense Squadron (19SDS) processes as defined on Space-Track.org, as maneuvering withoutscreening for close approaches creates risk of collision.
  • Supporting software modules that enable the above:Development and demonstration of software to be hosted aboard singlespacecraft, across the spacecraft swarm/constellation, or on the ground,that enable the cooperative identification and tracking and/orautonomous reactive operations, and whose primary functions can bedeveloped and demonstrated within the budget of standard NASA Phase Iand II SBIR awards. This includes artificial intelligence/machinelearning (AI/ML) techniques and applications that can enable autonomousorbit adjustment and other actions to mitigate the potential forin-orbit collisions. Solutions should include the ability to incorporatecurrent conjunction assessment processes via the 19 SDS processes asdefined on Space-Track.org, as maneuvering without screening for closeapproaches creates risk of collision. Also included are softwareapplications and/or network applications that enable:
    • Efficient information exchangebetween individual spacecraft.
    • Minimal reliance on groundcommanding.
    • Efficient use of space-qualifiedcomputing architectures.
    • High-precision swarm navigation andcontrol.
  • Supporting ground systems that enable the above:Development and demonstration of ground systems that enable thecooperative identification and tracking and/or autonomous reactiveoperations, and whose primary functions can be developed anddemonstrated within the budget of standard NASA Phase I and II SBIRawards.

In the abovedescriptions, the terms “SmallSat” and“small spacecraft” are to be interpreted asinterchangeable and apply to Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA)-class spacecraft and below, includingCubeSats, with masses of 180 kg and less. Where applicable, technologiesthat apply to CubeSats are highly desirable, as that would favor greateradoption of the technology.

In all of the above,clear key performance parameters should be given as a part of theofferor’s solution. These performance parameters (e.g.,SWaP-C) should be quantified, compared to state of the art, and put intocontext of a planned, proposed, or otherwise hypothetical mission.Technologies that, in addition to performing the requirements outlinedabove, can also be ported from LEO to deep spaceenvironments—enabling new science and exploration SmallSatswarms/constellation-based missions—are highlydesirable.

This scope does notsolicit trajectory prediction algorithms. Any such solutions should besubmitted through subtopic H9.03.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of theProject: 2 to 5

Primary TechnologyTaxonomy:

  • Level 1 17Guidance, Navigation, and Control(GN&C)
  • Level 2 17.2 NavigationTechnologies

DesiredDeliverables of Phase I and PhaseII:

  • Research
  • Analysis
  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Software

DesiredDeliverables Description:

In Phase I, acontextual study to further understand the feasibility of the proposedsolution is desired. Ideally, Phase I would conclude with a basicproof-of-concept prototype (hardware or software as appropriate).Critical requirements and interfaces should be defined alongsiderefinements of the proposed key performance parameters in Phase I. ThePhase I effort should provide evidence of the feasibility of keyelements such as cost, assembly, integration, and operations. Theconcept should reach sufficient maturity to show strong feasibility forthe defined mission environments and performance requirements. Theprototype system design should reach sufficient maturity to define testobjectives and map key performance parameters (mass, power, cost, etc.)from the prototype to the flight design. Hardware development during thePhase I effort should provide confidence in the design maturity andexecution of the Phase II effort. Lastly, the Phase I effort shouldidentify potential opportunities for mission infusion and initiatepartnerships or cooperative agreements necessary for missionexecution.

In Phase II, further development andtechnology maturation is desired. Ideally, Phase II would culminate withTRL 5+ demonstration of the proposed solution. Both Phase I and Phase IIshould be approached with focus on infusion, ensuring solutions arebeing developed with the proper requirements, interfaces,performance parameters, partnerships, etc., such that they, through aPhase III award or otherwise, could be directly applied to realspacecraft and real missions.

State of the Art and CriticalGaps:

Current space traffic coordination architectures typically have asignificant involvement of “humans in the loop” forthe identification of conjunction threats, for making the decision on ifand how to respond, and for implementation of the response. Currentlythe U.S. Air Force 19th Space Control Squadron provides conjunction datamessages (CDMs) to virtually all space operators worldwide followingtracking measurements taken with its assets. These are used to createorbit determination solutions that comprise the space object catalog.The operators then assess and weigh the risks to their assets posed bythe event described by the CDM against the resources to be expended tomitigate those risks, as well as consider the non-close-approach risksof taking mitigating action. This is a time-consuming process, typicallyon timescales that do not allow for rapid reaction to a rapidly evolvingthreat.

To help address suchsituations, various stakeholders have been implementing solutions oftheir own, but these solutions are likely to run into limitations,particularly as more spacecraft are deployed and systems need to bescaled further and start interacting with each other.

  • For example, to help protect its nonhumanspaceflight assets, NASA established its Conjunction Assessment and RiskAnalysis (CARA) program, with operational interfaces with the 18th SpaceControl Squadron to receive close-approach information in support ofNASA mission teams. As a whole, however, the system still featureshumans in the loop, and if further investments are not made, it may runinto combined scalability and time-responsiveness issues as morecommercial and/or noncooperative foreign assets deploy and/or passthrough the operational orbits of NASA spacecraft. While regulatorysolutions are part of the mix to help resolve the issues encountered,such as the Space Act Agreement between NASA and SpaceX to identify howeach party will respond [7], those solutions are slow to implement andhave legislative limitations. Technical solutions will inevitably benecessary to address gaps posed by regulatory means.
  • Deployers of SmallSat swarms and constellations areincreasingly implementing software solutions for spacecraft toautonomously decide and implement collision-avoiding maneuvers. However,given the large capital and labor-intensive investment required toimplement them, such systems may not be within the reach of allspacecraft operators, especially startup or single-spacecraft missionoperators. Furthermore, with such technologies in their infancy, andwith commercial operators racing to deploy and scale their spacecraftconstellations to achieve market dominance, there is a very real riskthat such systems may struggle to interface adequately with otherautonomous and nonautonomous constellations, as was experienced byOneWeb and SpaceX [8]. There may even be an enhanced collision risk aseach autonomous system independently takes evasive action that,unbeknownst to the other, increases the risk of collision, much like twopersons unsuccessfully trying to avoid each other in a corridor.

Relevance / ScienceTraceability:

  • Low-SWaP-C small spacecraft systems for cooperativeidentification and tracking: With increased demands on existing spacesituational awareness capabilities, and with regulatory attention on thethreat of spacecraft that are unidentified, misidentified, or too smallto track, the small spacecraft community needs low-SWaP-C identificationand tracking aids. Employing such methods would allow the community tooperate with lower risk to all spacecraft in orbit without negativelyimpacting the efficiency of small missions. There is a clear need todevelop and demonstrate low-cost and low-complexity identification andtracking aids that can be scaled, produced, and readily standardizedunder the paradigm of small spacecraft ecosystems.
    • Technologies used for identification and trackingaids are needed in all orbit regimes, including the rapidly growingcislunar environment.
  • Low-SWaP-C spacecraft systems for autonomousreactive operations of small spacecraft swarms and constellations: Smallspacecraft operating in formation, in close proximity to other objects,or beyond the capacity of human-in-the-loop control will be required toprocess input onboard and execute correct responses autonomously.
    • These sensor-driven operations will be enabling forsafe proximity operations with spacecraft or small bodies as well as thedetection and reaction to transient events for observation, such aswould be required for sampling a plume from Enceladus. Furthermore,enabling multiple small spacecraft operating in coordinated orbitalgeometries or performing relative stationkeeping can further expandhuman knowledge deeper into the universe by performing coordinatedoccultation, acting as virtual telescopes, and forming distributedapertures that would be prohibitively complex and expensive to launchinto space as monolithic structures. Small spacecraft formation flightcan also enable swarm gravimetry, synchronized observation of transientphenomena, and proximity operations for inspection of otherassets.
    • Autonomous maneuvering is not synonymous withreal-time maneuvering. All autonomous maneuvering solutions must allowtime and capability to screen planned maneuvers via existingclose-approach screening methods at 19 SDS (see Space-Track.org for moreinformation) to share planned information with other operators and thusprevent causing a collision.

References:

  1. Orbital Debris Mitigation and Challenges to theSpace Community, J.-C. Liou, Chief Scientist for Orbital Debris, NASA,58th Session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee, Committee onthe Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, United Nations, 19-30 April2021.
  2. U.S. National Space Policy, 1988.
  3. U.S. National Space Policy, 2020.
  4. Space Traffic Management in the Age of New Space,Aerospace Corporation, 2018.
  5. State of Space Environment, H. Krag, Head ofESA’s Space Debris Office, 25 June 2019.
  6. Space Traffic Management in the New Space Era, T.Muelhaupt, Principal Director, Center for Orbital and Reentry DebrisStudies, Center for Space Policy and Strategy, The AerospaceCorporation, Journal of Space Safety Engineering, Volume 6, Issue 2,June 2019.
  7. https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-spacex-sign-joint-spaceflight-safety-agreement
  8. https://www.theverge.com/2021/4/9/22374262/oneweb-spacex-satellites-dodged-potential-collision-orbit-space-force

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