Safer satellites: Share My Space wins EDA’s 2022 Innovation Prize

Source: European Defence Agency (EDA)

Share My Space, a ‘NewSpace’ company founded in 2017 and part of the emerging commercial space industry, wins this year's European Defence Agency (EDA) Defence Innovation Prize. This year’s €30,000 prize focused on space-based surveillance and reconnaissance defence technologies. It was awarded to Share My Space at EDA's annual conference in Brussels on 8 December, 2022.

Most space debris is tracked from earth and relies  on  NASA  and  the  U.S.  Department of  Defence’s  Space  Surveillance  Network,  as well as  the  U.S.  Air  Force’s  space-tracking  system  that uses ground-based  sensors.  In  Europe,  Toulouse-based  company  Share  My Space is among a small group of private companies offering the service, tracking artificial satellites and space debris, using its ground-based telescopes.

But it wants to go one step  further.  With  the  help  of  EDA,  it  could  develop  a  project  to   put   12   microsatellites   into  space   to   monitor   space   junk   with much   greater   accuracy.  If  successful,  every  90  minutes, the  satellites  would  be  able  to  send  back  a  full  scan  of  a  region  in  space  and  allow  companies  to  make  trajectory  decisions.  “No  sensor  at  ground  level  can  give  that  kind  of  precision,”  says  Norbert  Pouzin,  a  Spaceflight Dynamics Engineer at Share My Space.  “To  have  precise  and  accurate  data  on  all  orbits,  at  a  high  time-frequency,  you  need  the  combination  of  a  ground-based  and  space-based  observation  system.  A  surveillance  constellation  will  only  be  high-performance  with  a  full  network  of  ground-based sensors linked to it,” Pouzin says.

Collisions are not  theoretical     either.   According  to  the  European  Space  Agency,  the   first-ever   accidental   in-orbit   collision   between two satellites occurred in February 2009   above   Siberia,   when   a   privately-owned      U.S.      communication satellite, Iridium-33,  and  a  Russian  military  satellite,  Kosmos2251, collided. Both were destroyed.

The   microsatellites   form   the   essence   of   Share   My   Space’s   winning  proposal for   the  EDA’s  2022  Innovation  Prize.  While  the  €30,000  prize  money  can  only  be  seed  money    considering    the    potential    €720    million  cost  of  the  project,  it  does  bring  the    company    publicity    and    credibility,    Pouzin  says.  “It  shows  we  have  the  know-how  and  will  help  us  put  this  proposal  at  the  ministerial  level  in  France,  and  at  the  European level.”

 

Competitive field

Share  My  Space’s  proposal  involves  sending  up  the  microsatellites  with  three  crucial pieces of technology: a narrow field of view photo sensor telescope, a ‘fish-eye’ wide  angle  camera,  and  a  laser  to  track  objects. If Share My Space could secure an EDA-led  project  with  funding  from  Member  States,  it  would  likely  create  a  consortium  to build the satellites – a so-called Category B  project  that  would  allow  Member  States  to  opt-in  to  the  project  and  in  which  only  participating   states would   pay   towards   the  costs  of  the  project.  Share  My  Space  is   working   on the   basis   of   a   30-month   development cycle, with a five-year mission.

As in previous years, EDA’s Innovation Prize competition was very high, not just in terms of  the  number  of  proposals  –  15  in  all  –  but  also in terms of quality. “This year, we added an  incentive  to  promote  the  participation  of   small   and   medium-sized enterprises, including   start-ups,   and   give   them   the   opportunity     to     bring  their     innovative     proposals to the defence sector,” says Jean-François Ripoche, EDA Director for Research, Technology and Innovation (RTI).

Ripoche  says  that  Share  My  Space  was  selected   because   “it   proved   to   be  very   innovative,  proposing  a  solution  based  on  a  dedicated  satellites’  constellation  which  would  provide  more  continuous  coverage  and high accuracy position of the detected objects. By combining this architecture and the  latest  optical  sensors  technology,  this  proposal will put EU defence at the forefront in  space  surveillance.  ”As  the  amount  of  space junk is set to steadily increase, Share My  Space’s  proposal  could  not  have  come  sooner.

 

A full version of this article is available in EDA’s magazine European Defence Matters, Edition 24.

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