MSPO 2016: PIAP Robotic Gripper to Remove Inactive Satelites From the Orbit

During the MSPO Kielce International Defence Exhibition, the Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements has been showcasing a robotic gripper. The equipment in question stands a chance of being used in the e.Deorbit mission planned by the European Space Agency, the objective of which is to remove the inactive Envisat satellite from the Earth’s orbit.

Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements, within the part of its booth related to the space technologies, has been presenting mainly the robotic gripper, the functional tests of which have come to an end in mid-2016. The equipment is soon going to be shipped to the ESTEC facility located in Noordwijk, Netherlands, for further testing. 

The device has been designed with a purpose of removing the inactive satellites from the orbit. Such satellites, now defined as space-debris, pose a threat for other objects that remain in the outer space.  European Space Agency is planning to initiate the e.Deorbit mission after the year 2020, the goal of which would be to deorbit the 8-tonnes Envisat satellite, with the use of a special purpose maintenance satellite.  In the light of the aforesaid plans, ESA has been intensifying the programmes, the goal of which is to develop the technologies which soon would make it possible to maintain and dispose of non-operable satellites, such as the Envisat. The contract, with the related works being performed by the Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements, has been drafted as a part of the Polish Incentive Scheme, the goal of which is to fully prepare the Polish industry for performing the works for the European Space Agency.

Considering the requirements of the planned mission, the device developed in Poland is modular, consisting of quick and strong sections, respectively. The former element is characterized by a very short gripping time, below 2 seconds, it is also capable of adapting its shape to the gripped object. The strong part requires around 20 seconds for the grip to take place, it is capable of transferring significant loads related to space manoeuvrers and the deorbiting procedure. Such solution makes it possible to attach the damaged satellite to the Launch Adapter Ring.  Next, according to the latest plans, the servicing system (consisting of both the servicing satellite, as well as of the damaged object) would move itself towards a lower orbit and then both devices would burn in the atmosphere. One of the options is also seen in multiple use of the system, however such solution would be much more convoluted and difficult in implementation.

It is worth to add that during the gripper design and construction works, experience and some solutions developed by the Industrial Research Institute for Automation and Measurements for the counter-terrorism robots have been utilized. These robots, since several years, have been sold on the international market.

The e.Deorbit programme additionally involves other Polish entities. GMV company has been tasked with mission analysis, while the Polish Academy of Sciences Space Research Centre is going to develop the analysis of load that could emerge during the manoeuvrers of intercept and deorbiting. Sener POLSKA company is working on a concept of so called rigid intercept, based on a gripping mechanism, the said entity will also develop an initial project of such solution. The contract related to designing and constructing the functioning model of the gripper will be awarded by ESA, most probably, within the upcoming year.