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eSpace - EPFL Space Center is a pioneer in space sustainability. With the Clean Space Initiative, initially proposed to deorbit Swisscube which eventually spin-off from EPFL as the ClearSpace-1 mission to recover the Vega Secondary Payload Adapter (VESPA), the Center can draw on a decade of experience in space sustainability. More recently, in 2019 eSpace initiated a two-year pilot phase of a research initiative on sustainable space logistics (RISSL). This initiative was the starting point of several consortium projects that attracted many stakeholders, resulting in several publications and the development of a space logistics modelling software for mission profile evaluation and optimization. The success of this pilot phase encouraged the Center to continue exploring this new domain. Current research includes life cycle assessment of space transportation vehicles, accounting for space debris risks and the reentry phase, optimisation of space logistics, and mission design. These projects will help understanding and improving the situation in space. It is especially important to assess future impacts of new missions early in the design phase, in order to support space agencies and industry in designing new concepts with lower environmental impacts.

In order to unite EPFLโ€™s forces in the domain of sustainability in space, eSpace has recently launched the Sustainable Space Hub (SSH). The goal of the Hub is to coherently manage and foster the growth of these topics. 5 institutes within EPFL are currently involved in research and development projects in the field of space sustainability. The hub is connecting these individual projects in a workflow that rests on three intertwined pillars: measure, understand, and act for space sustainability.

The three pillars of the Sustainable Space Hub:

  • Measure

    Fill the gaps of unknown space objects

  • Object characterization
  • Space Situational Awareness (focused on Space debris)
  • 6D pose estimation for active debris removal missions
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    Understand

    Analyse and quantify environmental risks and impacts of missions

  • Life cycle assessment
  • Space Logistics Optimization
  • Material behaviour during atmospheric reentry and under high velocity impacts
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    Act

    Include assessments in space mission design since the early phase

  • Space Sustainability Rating
  • Concurrent Engineering

Main Projects

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Sustainable Space Logistics

Space logistics is under a paradigm change. Missions are more complex with more nodes and services in orbit. Great risks are posed by space debris meaning new missions and vehicles must be sustainable.

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Space Sustainability Rating

SSR is a rating system with the mission to Encourage space actors to design and implement sustainable & responsible space missions for the long-term sustainability of the space environment.ย 

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Concurrent Design Facility

eSpace is running a Concurrent Design Facility (CDF) which includes infrastructure, tools and support to carry concurrent design studies. We have implemented the CDF for education purposes and to offer it as a service to research partners and external companies.

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Thanks to these 10+ years of experience, in 2021 EPFL was selected to host the Space Sustainability Rating (SSR), which incentivizes space operators to adopt more responsible mission design and operational behaviour.

Its competence and neutrality, two important prerequisites for a successful, fair and widely accepted evaluation system, make eSpace the ideal host institution for the rating.

The definition of sustainability in space is constantly evolving.
eSpace is therefore continuously improving the formulation of the SSR to address emerging environmental, societal, and economic factors in the assessment.

These efforts are complemented by the EPFL laboratory of astrophysics (LASTRO), which is currently working on detection and characterization of resident objects in Earthโ€™s orbit in large astronomical data archives. The information extracted from these archives will allow a better evaluation of the evolution and current state of the small debris population, and support active debris removal that will be necessary to secure the future use of Earth's orbit.