Plextek’s Game-Changing Radar for the CLEAR Mission

    The Challenge

    In the area of space exploration and satellite operations, the issue of space debris poses a significant challenge. The accumulation of defunct satellites, spent rocket stages, and other remnants of past space missions poses a threat to functioning satellites and spacecraft in orbit. Recognising the gravity of this issue, the UK Space Agency has set out to develop a national Active Debris Removal and In-Orbit Servicing (ADR/IOS) industry. This industry aims not only to mitigate the risks posed by space debris but also to showcase cutting-edge technologies and expertise in this sector.

    The ambitious CLEAR mission, spearheaded by ClearSpace, stands out as a groundbreaking endeavour within the context of space debris removal. The mission’s goal involves the removal of two UK licensed objects from orbit, utilising innovative technologies such as safe close-proximity operations, refuelling capabilities, and robotic manipulation. This aligns perfectly with the UK’s vision outlined in the National Space Strategy, which emphasises the necessity of establishing a national ADR mission to address the challenges posed by space debris and support future space operations.

    Plextek's Game-Changing Radar for the CLEAR Mission - featured image
    Plextek's Game-Changing Radar for the CLEAR Mission - featured image

    The Approach

    To realise the objectives of the CLEAR mission, ClearSpace, as a prominent player in the in-orbit servicing sector, recognised the need for a robust radar system to support close approach and capture operations of the target objects. Tasked with identifying a dependable provider for this crucial subsystem, ClearSpace chose Plextek, a leading technology and engineering services business based in Cambridge, for several reasons:

    • Market recognition for developing efficient, low-size, weight, and power (SWaP) sensing and RF communication systems.
    • A rich portfolio of designed radars, evidencing their prowess in the field.
    • The possession of a mmWave radar platform (PLX-T60) ready to fast-track the development of this mission’s Rendezvous & Proximity Operations (RPO) radar.
    • Previous successful deployments of a similar platform for debris detection in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) missions.

    The collaboration is strategically organised into three key phases over 18 months:

    • Initial Analysis Phase: Focus on link budgets, high-level architectures, critical interfaces, and drafting a Bill of Materials (BoM) for environmental assessment.
    • Engineering and Testing Phase: Delivery of engineering models for system integration, alongside benchtop test and validation.
    • Final Preparations Phase: Development of flight models, gearing up for satellite integration and launch.

    This streamlined approach not only sets the stage for the mission’s success but aligns seamlessly with the CLEAR mission’s aim of addressing space debris, resonating with the National Space Strategy for a safer space environment.

    Plextek's Game-Changing Radar for the CLEAR Mission - featured image

    The Outcome

    In relation to the first phase, the collaboration between ClearSpace and Plextek has yielded significant outcomes in advancing the radar technology necessary for the success of the CLEAR mission. Through the short-term co-engineering activity, Plextek’s expertise in radar systems for space applications has been honed and tailored to meet the specific requirements of in-orbit servicing and debris removal, such as beam width and target range. This strategic collaboration has not only de-risked the radar concept but has also paved the way for future innovations in radar technology within the challenging constraints of the new-space industry.

    The successful outcome of this collaboration underscores the growth potential of SMEs like Plextek in contributing to large-scale space missions and aligning with national strategic objectives in space debris removal. ClearSpace’s strategic decision to engage with a UK-based consortium and leverage the expertise of Plextek demonstrates a commitment to fostering homegrown capabilities in ADR/IOS and solidifying the UK’s position as a leader in space industry expertise. As the CLEAR mission progresses towards its goal of removing space debris and showcasing advanced technologies, the strategic collaboration between ClearSpace and Plextek serves as a beacon of collaboration and innovation in addressing the pressing challenges of space exploration.

    “Plextek is excited to be part of the CLEAR mission, contributing our expertise in developing radar systems for space applications. Our collaboration with ClearSpace has allowed us to further refine our radar technology and address the challenges of the new-space industry. We are proud to be involved in a project that not only removes space debris but also helps establish the UK as a responsible player in the space debris community.”
    Richard Jacklin, Plextek

    “The CLEAR mission represents a significant step towards the UK’s vision of establishing a national ADR industry and growing its space industry and expertise. Plextek’s involvement has been crucial in developing the radar system required for safe close-proximity operations. Through this collaboration, ClearSpace has expanded its in-house expertise and potential clientele, positioning itself as a leading in-orbit servicing company. We value Plextek’s contribution and look forward to the successful completion of the CLEAR mission.”
    Rory Holmes, UK Managing Director, ClearSpace

    By leveraging the capabilities of Plextek, ClearSpace has made significant progress in advancing its in-orbit servicing capabilities, addressing the challenge of space debris removal, and establishing the UK’s position as a key player in the ADR/IOS industry. In May 2024 we were even recognized for our ground breaking technologies in the space and satellites sector, with The Award for Innovation from Cambridge Independent.

    This successful case study demonstrates the potential of collaboration between established companies and innovative SMEs to drive technological advancements and contribute to national and international goals in the space domain.

    Plextek's Game-Changing Radar for the CLEAR Mission - featured image