UK research body Qinetiq is to design and build the ion propulsion systems for the European Space Agency's (ESA) Gravity Field and Steady State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE). Qinetiq has also won an ESA contract to study a space vehicle to clear geosynchronous orbit (GEO) of space junk.

GOCE - the first of ESA's Earth Explorer Core Missions - will measure the Earth's gravitational field over two years from 2005. GOCE will be in a low Earth orbit - 250km (150 miles) - where it will meet high levels of drag, requiring an efficient attitude-control system. Ion propulsion is needed to cope with drag and maintain orbit.

Qinetiq will also lead a European team to investigate the need for and feasibility of the Robotic Geostationary Orbit Restorer space vehicle, which would dock with debris and move it to a graveyard orbit above the GEO ring (36,000km).

Qinetiq, which has been studying space debris risk for some time, will propose a cost-effective solution for an operational mission and demonstrator. The study is due to be completed in September.

Source: Flight International