Application context and needs
EROSS IOD set to revolutionise the Space Industry with the demonstration of On-Orbit Servicing
For decades, On-Orbit Services were a privilege reserved for elite missions like the iconic HUBBLE Space Telescope and the International Space Station. These exclusive services encompassed repairs, replacements and even robotic operations with human supervision. However, the astronomical costs associated with such missions, reaching several hundred million euros, made them inaccessible to all but the wealthiest players in the space industry, those with assets valued at over 1 billion euros.
But times are changing and recent technological advancements in robotics, autonomy and real-time image processing have brought about a remarkable decrease in the cost of these services. As a result, medium and large satellites, such as GEO-Telecommunication and Earth Observation satellites, are now able to benefit from these functions. Notably, Europe’s Meteo-satellite, environment monitoring satellites and imaging satellites are among the beneficiaries. The advent of electric propulsion has further amplified the potential of On-Orbit Servicing, enabling service providers to traverse different orbits and gain access to a broader customer base.
This transformation is evidenced by the surge in contracts signed over the past few years by prominent US prime contractors, who have embraced life extension through the use of tugs – service modules that capture and support customer satellites. These contracts not only underscore the significant cost reduction but also highlight the growing interest among operators. Additionally, customer inquiries and requests for information confirm the mounting market demand for On-Orbit Servicing.
The impetus driving this demand stems from several factors. Firstly, space systems must keep pace with rapid technological advancements, necessitating flexibility and evolvability. Secondly, there is a global push towards a more sustainable approach to space utilisation, favouring spacecraft upgrades over the launch of new ones. Finally, addressing concerns about space debris proliferation and the threat it poses to space systems has become paramount.
The latest developments in on-orbit servicing have compelled Europe to invest in developing its own capabilities to usher in the next generation of cooperative services. The European Robotic Orbital Support Services (EROSS) marked the initial step in this journey, serving as a ground demonstrator for cooperative in-orbit services. Following the closure of EROSS, its successor, EROSS+, was born. A vital milestone in Europe's pursuit of competitive offerings aligned with market expectations is the in-orbit demonstration of servicing and assembly operations. As demonstrated by Europe's triumphant capture of 60% of the GEO offers in the recent global public telecommunication market, European Satellite Integrators possess a formidable competitive edge thanks to their superior designs. Similar success can be replicated in the field of On-Orbit Servicing.
The successor of EROSS+ is EROSS IOD. It will demonstrate the necessary technologies for an on-orbit servicing demonstration mission in 2026. This undertaking involves designing the optimal mission, identifying critical technologies and leveraging all relevant European initiatives. The impact of these technologies extends beyond On-Orbit Servicing and holds immense potential for future lunar missions centred around the gateway, the next space station orbiting the Moon.
As Europe endeavours to foster a new space ecosystem, the key to unlocking European success lies in designing a compelling demonstration mission. This undertaking will pave the way for both institutional and commercial applications, forging a path towards enhanced competitiveness across all space domains. EROSS IOD spearheads this transformative journey.
The EROSS IOD project aims to complete the final steps required to launch a pioneering European mission by 2026, with a focus on meeting the needs of customers. The technologies showcased in EROSS IOD will bolster Europe’s competitive edge in all aspects of the space industry, ensuring its place at the forefront of innovation.