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“Sling-Sat” Idea for Removal of Orbital Debris

Credit: Texas A&M/Mortari-Missel

Space clutter and what to do about this menacing problem will demand creative solutions.

Texas A&M Aerospace Engineering Professor Daniele Mortari, and his Ph.D. student Jonathan Missel, are developing a new and imaginative concept that reinvents the way the problem is approached.

Their proposed mission is the “TAMU Sweeper” and the novel satellite design, “Sling-Sat.”

Traditional de-clutter missions plan to rendezvous with each object, capture them softly, and then transfer to the next object. In terms of fuel consumption, these maneuvers are hugely expensive.

The Texas A&M idea reclaims the fuel losses of a traditional mission by capturing and then ejecting each object through plastic collisions. These collisions strongly minimize — or even eliminate — the need to burn fuel for rendezvous, and ejecting the debris mass keeps the craft light.

In addition, the momentum exchanged in the capture and ejection of each object can be intelligently planned to act as a free impulses for the satellite to transfer to the next object, in place of fuel!

The proposed satellite design, Sling-Sat, also exploits existing momentum to save fuel.

How does it work?

Debris is captured at the ends of a spinning satellite. Adjustable arms control the angular rate to achieve a desired tangential ejection speed. Timing the release exacts the ejection angle.

Through this process, debris can be redirected to burn up in the atmosphere or, by lowering the perigee: the consequent drag increase will then reduce the debris lifetime.

According to a Texas A&M press statement, detailed design work on this orbital debris removal concept is underway this year.

NOTE: For an informative and clever YouTube video about troublesome orbital debris and Sling-Sat, go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aoow-t7qu7k

By Leonard David

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