In October 2023, The European Space Agency (ESA)
introduced a new set of guidelines focused on space debris mitigation which
particularly affect the smallsat and CubeSat categories. For many such
spacecraft, the most profound point from the 83-page requirements document is
that the mission should limit its lifetime to 5 years. This directive poses
a unique challenge, as the dynamic nature of the space environment makes
precise lifetime estimations difficult, with solar activity being a crucial variable
for low Earth orbits.
Solar activity refers to the Sun’s phenomena,
like solar flares and sunspots, which vary over an 11-year cycle. These
activities can affect the Earth’s atmosphere, expanding it and increasing drag
on satellites, thereby shortening their orbital lifetimes. We are currently
entering a declining trend in solar activity which results in a longer lifetime
of a satellite. Free tools such as DRAMA and MASTER, developed by ESA, allow us
to analyse and understand the expected space environment.
The first Slovak satellite skCUBE, the mission
Spacemanic has spun off from, was launched in 2017. It operated during a period
of minimal solar activity period and impressively lasted for over 6.4 years! Such
a feat would certainly not be compliant with ESA’s new regulations. On the
other hand, another mission built by Spacemanic, BDSat-1, was launched into a much
more active solar environment. In its first two years, it has already decreased
its altitude by 150 km, in contrast to skCUBE, which only lost 10 km. Our most
recent satellite, Veronika, is projected to have a lifespan of 2.5 years which
is slightly longer than that of BDSat-1.
When considering larger CubeSats, the longevity
issue becomes even more pronounced due to their increased mass relative to
surface area. For example, the 3U VZLUSat-2 which is projected to have an
operational life of close to 7 years, despite being up there during solar maximum.
At Spacemanic, we understand the importance of
innovation in response to these regulations. The development of our CORVUS
platform within the European Space Agency Pioneer programme could not have been timed
better. With ESA’s guidance and proactive stance on the Space Debris Mitigation
policy, we are steering our products and services toward full compliance. This
evolution marks a step towards a future where space missions are not just
technologically advanced, but also environmentally conscious and responsible.
Our focus is on harnessing and developing technologies that align with these
objectives, positioning Spacemanic as a forerunner in shaping a sustainable
path for space exploration.
We invite other industry players, potential
clients, and collaborators to join us in adapting to these changes. For more
information about our platforms, products, and how we can help your missions
meet the new ESA regulations, contact us!