This fall, Millennium Space Systems will test technology that will simplify the process of clearing spent vehicles from low-Earth orbit. The developers have already completed tests and are ready to launch a CubeSat into space with an embedded conductive tape, which will create additional friction and help speed up the combustion process of the satellite in the atmosphere, according to Space.com.
Today about 5.5 thousand satellites revolve around our planet, but only half of them are in working order. The rest of the objects are space debris that periodically collides with each other and poses a threat to future space missions. Many companies are working on plans to clean up near-Earth space, but there is still no actually used way to remove debris from orbit. Basic strategies involve collecting debris using special space cleaners, but this requires additional cash costs.
Millennium Space Systems (a subsidiary of the aerospace concern Boeing) plans to test a system that in the future will take care of the problem of space debris even before the launch of the satellite. As part of the DragRacer mission, researchers will send two nearly identical 12.5-kilogram CubeSats into space.
One of the CubeSats will descend from orbit into the dense layers of the atmosphere and burn there on its own, while the other will use a 70-meter conductive tape for this, which, according to the calculations of the engineers, will increase the total cross-section of the satellite and the friction force that occurs due to interaction with ions oxygen. In addition, movement through the earth's magnetic field will induce stress along with the ribbon. It will cause an electric current to rise through it, with electrons from the conducting ionospheric plasma accumulating at the top, and ions at the bottom. According to the creators, in this way, the current will create a passive electrodynamic friction force.
The increase in frictional force, as expected in Millennium Space Systems, will significantly reduce the time required to take a CubeSat out of orbit. According to calculations, if the satellite with the ribbon burns out in the atmosphere in a month and a half, then for the second device it will take much longer - up to nine years. In addition, the technology proposed by the company will cost less than existing space cleaner projects.
The company has already completed the creation and testing of CubeSats, and they are now waiting to be sent to New Zealand, from where they will be launched into space in the fall of 2020. Depending on the results of the experiment, Millennium Space Systems will either use the belt as an independent element or supplement it with a small power plant.
Today there are many projects to clean up the Earth's orbit from space debris. These include satellites with an adhesive layer for sticking debris and electrodynamic traps to slow down their flight speed, as well as vehicles with nets to catch the remains of former vehicles.