As more and more satellites are being launched into space, the area around the Earth has become quite crowded. Then there’s the problem of space debris which is composed of abandoned satellites that are yet to fall back into the earth’s atmosphere. These abandoned satellites make future space missions more difficult and more dangerous to get launched into space.
To tackle the problem of space debris, a company called Tethers Unlimited has demonstrated an easy solution to get rid of satellites once they are of no use. The solution involves a 230-feet long strip of conductive tape, which is delightfully called the Terminator Tape.
Terminator Tape to pull satellites down
The Terminator Tape is a small module about the size of a notebook. Weighing less than two pounds, it is designed to attach to the exterior of a satellite which deploys the 230-feet long conductive tape through an electric signal from either the satellite or an independent timer unit when the satellite completes its mission and is ready to get disposed.
“This tape interacts with the space environment to create a drag force on the satellite that lowers its orbit far more rapidly than it would if it were simply abandoned in orbit,” Tethers Unlimited said in a press release. The company calls the Terminator Tape “an affordable, lightweight solution for removing space debris from an orbit”.
Effectiveness of the Terminator Tape
To test the system, Tethers Unlimited attached an automated timer unit of the Terminator Tape module to the Porx-1 satellite, launched in late June 2019 by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s University Nanosatellite Program.
“Three months after launch, as planned, our timer unit commanded the Terminator Tape to deploy, and we can see from observations by the US Space Surveillance Network that the satellite immediately began de-orbiting over 24-times faster,” said Dr Rob Hoyt, CEO of Tethers Unlimited.
Hoyt said that instead of remaining in orbit for hundreds of years, removing dead satellites in this manner will help to combat the growing space debris problem. “This successful test proves that this lightweight and low-cost technology is an effective means for satellite programs to meet orbital debris mitigation requirements,” he added.
Tethers Unlimited is currently collaborating with Millennium Space Systems, TriSept, and RocketLab to prepare a scientific method-based low-Earth orbit flight experiment called “DRAGRACER”. It will compare deorbit of two identical satellites– one with a Terminator Tape and another without one. The experiment will compare the falling speed of the two satellites to analyse the tape’s performance.
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