The E.T.PACK Initiative

Developing electrodynamic tether technology for the sustainable use of space. †

The E.T.PACK team was established in 2019, when the European Innovation Council (EIC) granted the FET-OPEN project “Electrodynamic Tether technology for PAssive Consumable-less deorbit Kit“. Its goal, i.e. the development of a deorbit device based on ElectroDynamic Tether (EDT) technology with TRL 4, was achieved by the team in 2022. It represented the first stone towards the main objective of the team: the preparation and commercialization of a set of products based on EDT technology. Among the envisaged applications of these products one finds the deorbiting space debris, the reboost of spacecraft, in-orbit servicing, and enable missions at very low orbits. All of them benefit from the propellant-less character of EDTs.

In the framework of the E.T.PACK Initiative, the team developed several projects aimed at the maturation of EDT technology and its later exploitation. The most important projects are:

  • E.T.PACK, FET-OPEN, Funded by the European Innovation Council. Budget 3M€. Goal: development of a Deorbit Kit (DK) and related software based on Low Work function Tether (LWT) technology with TRL 4, 2019-2022
  • E.T.PACK-F, EIC Transition, Funded by the European Innovation Council. Budget 2.5M€. Goal: development of a ready-to-fly deorbit device (TRL 8). 2022-2025.
  • BMOM, Innovation Launchpad, Funded by the European Innovation Council. Budget 100 k€. Goal: make a business model for E.T.PACK’s deorbit device, 2021-2022.
  • Early Technology Development Project funded by the European Space Agency. Budget 175 k€. Goal: study the feasibility of the bare-photovoltaic tether concept. 2022-2023.

The potential impact for society of the E.T.PACK Initiative is supported by a fundamental characteristic of EDTs: they are reversible devices that convert orbital into electrical energy and vice versa without using any propellant. Such a property is key for several space applications. For instance, an EDT in the so-called generator mode (passive) can be used for deorbiting spacecraft at the end of life, thus contributing to solve the space debris problem that is one of the most important space challenges of the next decades. EDTs in the so-called thruster mode (fed by a power source) can provide indefinite station keeping, which is of particular importance for satellites orbiting at very low orbit and the International Space Station. The opening of new horizons for science and technology is also envisaged because EDTs can be used as scientific instruments and in missions to planet with magnetosphere such as Jupiter and Saturn.