Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 32726
Deorbiting Performance of Electrodynamic Tethers to Mitigate Space Debris

Authors: Giulia Sarego, Lorenzo Olivieri, Andrea Valmorbida, Carlo Bettanini, Giacomo Colombatti, Marco Pertile, Enrico C. Lorenzini


International guidelines recommend removing any artificial body in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) within 25 years from mission completion. Among disposal strategies, electrodynamic tethers appear to be a promising option for LEO, thanks to the limited storage mass and the minimum interface requirements to the host spacecraft. In particular, recent technological advances make it feasible to deorbit large objects with tether lengths of a few kilometers or less. To further investigate such an innovative passive system, the European Union is currently funding the project E.T.PACK – Electrodynamic Tether Technology for Passive Consumable-less Deorbit Kit in the framework of the H2020 Future Emerging Technologies (FET) Open program. The project focuses on the design of an end of life disposal kit for LEO satellites. This kit aims to deploy a taped tether that can be activated at the spacecraft end of life to perform autonomous deorbit within the international guidelines. In this paper, the orbital performance of the E.T.PACK deorbiting kit is compared to other disposal methods. Besides, the orbital decay prediction is parametrized as a function of spacecraft mass and tether system performance. Different values of length, width, and thickness of the tether will be evaluated for various scenarios (i.e., different initial orbital parameters). The results will be compared to other end-of-life disposal methods with similar allocated resources. The analysis of the more innovative system’s performance with the tape coated with a thermionic material, which has a low work-function (LWT), for which no active component for the cathode is required, will also be briefly discussed. The results show that the electrodynamic tether option can be a competitive and performant solution for satellite disposal compared to other deorbit technologies.

Keywords: Deorbiting performance, H2020, spacecraft disposal, space electrodynamic tethers.

Procedia APA BibTeX Chicago EndNote Harvard JSON MLA RIS XML ISO 690 PDF Downloads 545


[1] D. J. Kessler and B. G. Cour-Palais, “Collision frequency of artificial satellites: The creation of a debris belt,” Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, vol. 83, no. A6, pp. 2637–2646, 1978.
[2] M. Shan, J. Guo, and E. Gill, “Review and comparison of active space debris capturing and removal methods,” Progress in Aerospace Sciences, vol. 80, pp. 18–32, 2016.
[3] Active debris removal, Security/Space Debris/Active debris removal, Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[4] N. Adilov, P. J. Alexander, and B. M. Cunningham, “The economics of orbital debris generation, accumulation, mitigation, and remediation,” Journal of Space Safety Engineering, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 447–450, 2020.
[5] W. A. Hanson, “In their own words: Oneweb’s internet constellation as described in their FCC Form 312 Application,” New Space, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 153–167, 2016.
[6] J. Alvarez and B. Walls, “Constellations, clusters, and communication technology: Expanding small satellite access to space,” in 2016 IEEE Aerospace Conference, IEEE, 2016, pp. 1–11.
[7] S. Kawamoto, T. Hirai, S. Kitajima, S. Abe, and T. Hanada, “Evaluation of space debris mitigation measures using a debris evolutionary model,” Transactions of the Japan Society for Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Aerospace Technology Japan, vol. 16, no. 7, pp. 599–603, 2018.
[8] SpaceFlightNow, https : / / spacexmodifies- starlink-network-design-as- another-60- satellites- gear-upfor- launch/, Last accessed on 2020-12-01.
[9] H. Stokes, Y. Akahoshi, C. Bonnal, et al., “Evolution of ISO’s space debris mitigation standards,” Journal of Space Safety Engineering, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 325–331, 2020.
[10] A. G. Karacalioglu and J. Stupl, “ The Impact of New Trends in Satellite Launches on the Orbital Debris Environment,” NASA, Tech. Rep., 2016, online, at https : / / ntrs . nasa . gov / search . jsp ? R = 20160011184, Last accessed on 2020-12-01.
[11] V. L. Foreman, A. Siddiqi, and O. De Weck, “Large satellite constellation orbital debris impacts: Case studies of oneweb and spacex proposals,” in AIAA SPACE and Astronautics Forum and Exposition, 2017, p. 5200.
[12] L. Olivieri and A. Francesconi, “Large constellations assessment and optimization in LEO space debris environment,” Advances in Space Research, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 351–363, 2020.
[13] FET OPEN project, Electrodynamic Tether Technology for Passive Consumable-less Deorbit Kit (E.T.PACK), Project no. 828902, 1/3/2019-31/5/2022,, Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[14] C. P. Mark and S. Kamath, “Review of active space debris removal methods,” Space Policy, vol. 47, pp. 194–206, 2019.
[15] J. L. Rhatigan and W. Lan, “Drag-enhancing deorbit devices for spacecraft self-disposal: A review of progress and opportunities,” Journal of Space Safety Engineering, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 340–344, 2020.
[16] A. Black and D. A. Spencer, “Dragsail systems for satellite deorbit and targeted reentry,” Journal of Space Safety Engineering, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 397–403, 2020.
[17] B. Cotton, I. Bennett, and R. Zee, “On-Orbit Results from the CanX-7 Drag Sail Deorbit Mission,” 2017.
[18] B. Taylor, C. Underwood, A. Viquerat, et al., “Flight Results of the InflateSail Spacecraft and Future Applications of DragSails,” in 32nd Annual AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites, Logan, Utah, 2018.
[19] B. Smith, C. Capon, M. Brown, and R. Boyce, “Ionospheric drag for accelerated deorbit from upper low earth orbit,” Acta Astronautica, vol. 176, pp. 520–530, 2020.
[20] T. Sinn, L. Tiedemann, A. Riemer, et al., “ADEO passive de-orbit subsystem activity leading to a dragsail demonstrator: conclusions and next steps,” in Proceeding of 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), Adelaide, Australia, 2017, pp. 25–29.
[21] E. K. Pfeiffer, T. Sinn, H. G. Hemme, et al., “ADEO - The European Commercial Passive De-Orbit Subsystem Family Enabling Space Debris Mitigation,” in 1st Aerospace Europe Conference (AEC) 2020, Bordeaux, France, 2020.
[22] R. Ernst, T. Sinn, H. G. Hemme, et al., “For a cleaner space, the de-orbiting approach of the PROBA P200 platform with the dragsail subsystem ADEO 2,” in 1st Aerospace Europe Conference (AEC) 2020, Bordeaux, France, 2020.
[23] H. Hakima and M. R. Emami, “Assessment of active methods for removal of LEO debris,” Acta Astronautica, vol. 144, pp. 225–243, 2018.
[24] M. Leomanni, G. Bianchini, A. Garulli, A. Giannitrapani, and R. Quartullo, “Orbit Control Techniques for Space Debris Removal Missions Using Electric Propulsion,” Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics, pp. 1–10, 2020.
[25] J. Sanmartin, M. Martinez-Sanchez, and E. Ahedo, “Bare wire anodes for electrodynamic tethers,” Journal of Propulsion and Power, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 353–360, 1993.
[26] J. D. Williams, J. R. Sanmartin, and L. P. Rand, “Low work-function coating for an entirely propellantless bare electrodynamic tether,” IEEE Transactions on plasma science, vol. 40, no. 5, pp. 1441–1445, 2012.
[27] G. Sanchez-Arriaga and X. Chen, “Modeling and performance of electrodynamic low-work-function tethers with photoemission effects,” Journal of Propulsion and Power, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 213–220, 2018.
[28] G. Curzi, D. Modenini, and P. Tortora, “Large constellations of small satellites: A survey of near future challenges and missions,” Aerospace, vol. 7, no. 9, p. 133, 2020.
[29] A Technical Comparison of Three Low Earth Orbit Satellite Constellation Systems to Provide Global Broadband, http : / /www.∼portillo/files/Comparison-LEO-IAC-2018-slides.pdf, Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[30] SpaceX seeks permission for 4,425-satellite internet constellation, / spacex - seeks - permission - 4425 - satellite - internet - constellation/, Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[31] The Next Wave: Low Earth Orbit Constellations, http : / / satellitemarkets . com / news - analysis / next - wave - low- earth - orbit - constellations, Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[32] News Analysis — Telesat’s deliberate pace to LEO broadband, https: / / news - analysis - telesats - deliberate - pace - to - leo - broadband/, Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[33] N. Satak, P. H. Laxminarayana, and P. D. Keskar, System and method for integrated optimization of design and performance of satellite constellations, International Publication Number: WO 2018/037424 Al, Aug. 2017.
[Online]. Available: https : / / patentimages . storage .
[34] EarthCARE (Earth Explorer 6), sdat/ earthcare.htm, Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[35] G. S´anchez-Arriaga, C. Bombardelli, and X. Chen, “Impact of nonideal effects on bare electrodynamic tether performance,” Journal of Propulsion and Power, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 951–955, 2015.
[36] MATLAB – MathWorks – MATLAB & Simulink, https : / / www., Last accessed on 2020-12-31.
[37] J. Picone, A. Hedin, D. P. Drob, and A. Aikin, “NRLMSISE-00 scientific issues,” Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, vol. 107, no. A12, SIA–15, 2002.
[38] D. Romagnoli and S. Theil, “De-orbiting satellites in leo using solar sails,” Journal of Aerospace Engineering, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 49, 2012.
[39] L. DeLuca, F. Bernelli, F. Maggi, et al., “Active space debris removal by a hybrid propulsion module,” Acta Astronautica, vol. 91, pp. 20–33, 2013.
[40] M. Leomanni, A. Garulli, A. Giannitrapani, and F. Scortecci, “Propulsion options for very low earth orbit microsatellites,” Acta Astronautica, vol. 133, pp. 444–454, 2017.
[41] D. Bilitza and B. W. Reinisch, “International reference ionosphere 2007: Improvements and new parameters,” Advances in space research, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 599–609, 2008.
[42] M. Mandea, S. Macmillan, T. Bondar, et al., “International geomagnetic reference field—2000,” Physics of the Earth and planetary interiors, vol. 120, no. 1, pp. 39–42, 2000.
[43] G. S´anchez-Arriaga, S. Naghdi, K. W¨atzig, et al., “The ET PACK project: Towards a fully passive and consumable-less deorbit kit based on low-work-function tether technology,” Acta Astronautica, vol. 177, pp. 821–827, 2020.
[44] L. Tarabini-Castellani, A. Ortega, A. Gimenez, et al., “Low work-function tether Deorbit Kit,” Journal of Space Safety Engineering, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 332–339, 2020.
[45] L. Tarabini-Castellani, A. Ortega, S. Garcia, et al., “Development Roadmap of a Deorbit Kit Based on Electrodynamic Tether,” in Proceeding of 71th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), The CyberSpace Edition, 12-14 October 2020, 2020, p. 56 858.