A Cubesat Deployed a De-Orbiting Tether and Now it’s Losing Altitude 24 Times Faster than Before

Universe Today | 1/24/2020 | Staff
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A company called Tethers Unlimited has deployed its de-orbiting tether in a successful test on the Prox-1 satellite. The satellite is one of four that are carrying the device, called the Terminator Tape. Rather than stay in space for years or decades, and add to the growing problem of space debris, Prox-1 is using its Terminator Tape to slowly lower its orbit.

The Terminator Tape is a low-cost solution to the problem of removing inactive satellites from orbit. The space industry is booming right now, and that’s feeding into the growing space debris problem. New guidelines are being developed to deal with problem, and eventually, there will be restrictions governing a satellite’s lifetime.

Tethers - De-orbiting - Technology - Response - Measures

Tethers Unlimited is developing their de-orbiting technology in response to these measures.

“Rapidly removing dead satellites in this manner will help to combat the growing space debris problem.”

Terminator - Tape - Lightweight - Module—less - Kilogram—unit

The Terminator Tape is a compact lightweight module—less than 1 kilogram—unit that attaches to CubeSats, NanoSats, and Small MicroSats. It has a small footprint and its operation poses no risk to the operation of the satellite, according to Tethers Unlimited.

The NanoSat Terminator Tape (l) and the CubeSat Terminator Tape (r.) Image Credit: Tethers Unlimited.

Tape - Command - Timer - Tape - Cells

The Tape can be deployed by command or by timer, and consists of a long, conductive tape with two optional solar cells. When deployed, it “generates neutral particle drag and passive electromagnetics drag to hasten the de-orbit” according to Tethers Unlimited’s website.

“This successful test proves that this lightweight and low-cost technology is an effective means for satellite programs to meet orbital debris mitigation requirements.”

Prox-1 - Test - Timer - Meter - Ft

During the Prox-1 test, an independent timer was used, and a 70 meter (230 ft) long tape was deployed in early September 2019. According to the US Space Surveillance Network, Prox-1 immediately began lowering its orbit 24x faster than satellites without the Terminator Tape.

“Three months after...
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