The increasingly accessible and affordable launch of satellites also has a downside: space debris accumulates in orbit. Scientists are increasingly aware of the serious danger posed by this debris, which strays uncontrollably around the planet and causes some missions significant damage. Space agencies such as the European ESA – in which Spain has a stake – and the American NASA are currently involved We are working on technologies to collect this garbage and bring it back to the surface where it burns up on re-entry, or even treat it directly in space.
Just a few days ago, NASA itself placed an order with the also American TransAstra for the development of one Huge, inflatable space bag for catching space debris. The award is $850,000 (€787,000) as part of Phase 2 of the Small Business Innovation Research Project.
Thanks to the financial support, the company will be able to build the device and will demonstrate its performance in a real scenario, still undated. A potential solution that could eliminate some of the risk currently faced by both orbital and transorbital space missions, and all indications are that it will increase in the future unless near-term remedial action is taken.
The concept of the TransAstra space junk bag is nothing new at the newly sanctioned competition. It was invented by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Asteroid diversion missiona plan to reach a near-Earth asteroid and transport it onto a cislunar trajectory, far from the planet’s close proximity and danger to humanity.
The JPL program began in 2013 and ran until 2017 when the US Congress failed to approve further funding expansions. Already in 2021 TransAstra has built a small collection bag Thanks to a new NASA program, as collected SpaceNewsas a first test for a much larger and more powerful device in the future.
“We originally developed this catch bag prototype to demonstrate asteroid extraction in low Earth orbit using a simulated asteroid,” said Joel Sercel, founder and CEO of TransAstra. “But later we realized that was the case Best thing ever done for in-orbit debris clearance”.
In addition to all the necessary systems, the creators are also considering the manufacture of various types of bags. The smallest will focus on cubesats that are a few decimeters in size. The larger ones could collect entire stages or rocket fairings.large geostationary telecommunications satellites obsolete or even salvaging the original application, capturing asteroids of up to 50,000 tons.
“The target doesn’t have to have any objects to grab hold of,” notes Sercel. “Does not require docking, which is a precision maneuver. You have to be precise enough to open the bag, to walk around the thing and to close it.
What is a little more complex is Adapt to the movement of the garbage which is to be removed. For example, when spinning rapidly – which is common in such situations – the ship carrying the inflatable bag “must follow that curve up to a certain point, according to our analyses”. And yes, catch it and remove it.
And, just like a traditional bag, can be used for more than one object at a time. The aim of TransAstra is to eliminate as much waste as possible in the same trip. “If I have to fly to an object, capture it, put it into a short orbit and then return to an operating altitude, it requires a tremendous amount of fuel,” Sercel continues. “It’s best to capture multiple pieces of debris in a single mission.”
From the bag to recycling
TransAstra and space startup ThinkOrbital have published a study proposing to conduct it Recycling jobs directly in orbit. This program will result in a significant reduction in TransAstra’s vessel operating costs. by 82% of the fuel consumption and 40% of the time needed to clear the debris.
TransAstra spacecraft leaves space debris on ThinkOrbital TransAstra platform
“These results confirm and underscore the potential of this approach Solve one of the biggest and most pressing threats “We can make space travel faster, easier, cheaper and more sustainable,” said Sebastian Asprella, CEO and co-founder of ThinkOrbital, in a statement. “The implications of these findings for the ongoing space industrialization are profound.”
The scheme that both companies intend to follow involves collecting garbage through inflatable bags onboard TransAstra vessels and then transporting it to the ThinkOrbital orbital platform. The latter is expected to consist of a Sphere with a diameter of about 37 meters and a volume of 4,000 cubic meters where the recycling plant itself would be installed. Including all kinds of robotic tools to analyze the collected objects and be able to repair or recycle them.
“The powerful combination of these revolutionary technologies creates an efficient ecosystem to immediately and continuously address our growing space debris problem,” said Nicole Shumaker, vice president of strategic partnerships at TransAstra. “Recycling stations in space solve this problem and turn what was previously a liability into an asset that not only reduces in-orbit debris, but opens up new possibilities for in-space manufacturing and construction.”