Earth’s orbit massively filled with dead satellites, and other leftovers from past missions. More than 500,000 pieces of space debris travel around our planet at speeds up to 17,500 miles per hour. The European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1A satellite collided with a tiny piece of debris.
The collisions will become more common, creating even more debris. It may initiate a domino effect, the pieces crash into other objects.
Researchers at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California $500,000 to continue development of spacecraft Called Brane Crafts. It cleans the small pieces of space debris thinner than a human hair almost like a space vacuum cleaner. Brane crafts captures the debris and it wraps around it and release in atmosphere. It could burn the trash around 155 miles above the Earth’s surface.
The Brane Crafts are lightweight and fuel-efficient. These tiny ships sent to visit asteroids, moons, and other planets. Traveling faster than a speeding bullet, dispose of it. Then hunt down the next piece of trash call for immense amounts of fuel making it extremely costly.
The Brane Craft idea is to take a spacecraft and reduce it to its absolute minimum mass, says Siegfried Janson, a senior scientist at The Aerospace Corporation. Launching a Cubesat costs $250,000 a kind of miniaturized satellite. His goal is to make spacecraft that are so light that they would cost only $5,000 each to launch.
It might take five days for the Brane Craft to operate up to the debris and wrap it. The Brane Craft would then fire its thrusters to push in the opposite direction to the one the debris was traveling in. Janson estimates that the ships could be ready for launch in about 10 years. He and his team are planning to use their most recent round of NASA funding to refine their design and start testing super-thin electronics.
The space craft’s once reach the International Space Station or another point in low Earth orbit. Each one could be sent directions to its target piece of debris radar stations track more than 18,000 objects in orbit, most of which are space debris.
Electrospray Thruster Engine
The current design is a membrane-like ship that is three square feet in size and weighs less than a banana. Each spacecraft manufactured from flexible plastic sheets 10 microns thick printed with a fine film of solar cells and electronics. Liquid propellant stored in the 15 to 20 micron gap between these sheets.
The solar cells will power a type of engine called an electrospray thruster that uses propellant very sparingly, muscles integrated into the structure. These muscles are made from a polymer sandwiched between two metal plates that can change shape when an electric current is run through them, causing a voltage difference.
The European Space Agency is also considering robotic arm grippers, nets, harpoons, and tethers. Another European team is planning to launch its Remove Debris mission in late 2017 or early 2018, which will practice capturing CubeSat with a net and harpoon. Aeroscale, a satellite services company based in Singapore, is planning to capture debris using magnets. And researchers at Stanford University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. California have designed a gripper inspired by gecko feet that could latch onto satellites and other large debris.
Brane Craft will be so fuel-efficient that one of these tiny ships could travel all the way to Mars and back, make multiple trips between the moon and low Earth orbit, Janson says.
Brane Craft could also be used to study mine asteroids. It becomes expensive to build thousands of spacecrafts and making them traveling towards individual asteroids. But group of Brane Crafts could visit the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and return carrying samples.
In addition, tiny spacecraft even help to protect the Earth, Janson says. Manufacture larger versions or production of thousands of Brane Crafts and send them to protect us from incoming asteroids.