European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) spacecraft controllers conduct maneuvers every fortnight.
These ESOC procedures are required every couple of weeks in order to keep equipment safe from threats of orbiting space debris. The controllers out of Darmstadt in Germany are protecting around 20 low Earth orbit Satellites, according to a recent ESA news report.
The number of close encounters is rising, and teams must monitor and evaluate around 5 times as many near collisions as the number of procedures they conduct. They have requested a 24/7 task force team in order to keep the equipment safe. It is hoped in the near future that artificial intelligence systems will help to conduct the procedures itself, to reduce the requirement for the 24/7 staffing teams.
All the big space networks believe that the frequency of these events will continue to rise. However not all near collision alerts are from space debris pieces. Massive companies such as Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb have been constructing and launching thousands of satellites into mega-constellations, adding more orbiting spacecraft every month than used to be the case for an entire year, said a recent space.com report.
“Every collision avoidance manoeuvre is a nuisance,” said Holger Krag, head of the ESA’s Space Debris Office. “Not only because of fuel consumption but also because of the preparation that goes into it. We have to book ground-station passes, which costs money, sometimes we even have to switch off the acquisition of scientific data. We have to have an expert team available round the clock.”
All that additional orbiting traffic is concerning to space debris experts and the ESA is hoping to use technology to help mitigate this rapidly rising risk. The goal is for the AI system to make it possible for equipment to automatically dodge space degree, or to at least reduce the pressure on the human teams.