Finding a Safe Parking Spot in the Sky Has Just Become Easier
More powerful and accurate, Earth Observation satellites feature major breakthrough technologies contributing to a better understanding of our planet, our oceans, our weather conditions… in a nutshell, our global environment. Earth Observation satellites, whether using radar or optical payloads, can also be used for defense uses, in particular for applications linked to maritime security or border surveillance. Moreover, powerful telecommunications satellites can offer High Speed Internet in certain coverage zones, directly contributing to bridge the digital divide, in particular in isolated areas.
Yet that only will be possible if they can find space in that space—a place to park in orbit that will not be vulnerable to the dangers of increasing space debris.
Space debris of all kinds – satellites, bits of rocket stages, parts spun off the International Space Station – is now in constant orbit around the earth.
Add to this meteorites and comets plus solar flares and other weather conditions, and you’ve got the potential for scary close encounters.
“A lot of this is left over from the earlier days of the space age,” says Bart van der Graaff, Director, Operational Business Development. These metal objects travel at 8 kilometres per second, so they can inflict great damage if they hit a satellite. They could even knock out communications. And then there goes Facebook, satellite TV, GPS, and even bank ATMs.
Thales is playing a role in improving our “space situational awareness”, or the understanding of the orbital population, with its SMART-L Multi-Mission long-distance radar.
Deployed by the Royal Netherlands Air Force to detect enemy ballistic missiles, the radar also spots and tracks near-Earth objects.
The Royal Netherlands Navy will deploy the newly developed Thales long-distance radar on its 4 air defence and command frigates. Because it can detect threats so early and calculate the flight path within seconds, there is more time for an interception.
In this way, Thales provides a way of reducing the risk of more collisions and more debris, so that future space activity can continue unimpeded.
Nice to know:
"Once a satellite is launched, there is no after-sales service possible in orbit"! This sentence will probably no longer be relevant in the near future. You wonder why... We call them Space Servicers! As their name suggests, these space vehicles are intended for in-orbit services. True Swiss Army knives, they will be able to carry out a wide range of operations in orbit, including controlled re-entry of space debris, robotic manipulation, the extension of a satellite's operational life, in-orbit re-fuelling, inspection, etc. With these new vehicles, we will witness a real paradigm shift from a “stationary space” to a space that is on the contrary dynamic. Space Servicers, of which Thales Alenia Space is one of the most advanced spearheads, will bring a new approach to access to space. And if we ever start building lunar bases, Space Servicers could be hugely valuable, especially for transporting the various components to be assembled.