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Space junk. NASA has selected companies that will clean up in low Earth orbit

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NASA has selected six small American companies that will receive a total of $20 million. They are to develop technologies that will reduce the problems associated with space debris in orbit and the deposition of dust on the surfaces of planets and moons.

There is an increasing amount of space junk in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). These are fragments of spaceships, satellites that have ceased to function and are moving at great speed. This poses a threat to currently operating satellites, to astronauts on the International Space Station and increases the cost of spaceflight (for example, the need to use fuel for maneuvering to avoid dangerous elements).

The US Federal Communications Commission has calculated that over 60 years of human presence and equipment in spaceThere are about 10,000 satellites in orbit. More than half are already inactive, and their ever-growing number threatens further missions.

Companies that clean up space debris

Four technologies are to be developed to mitigate this problem. The Busek company is to improve the capabilities of impulse propulsion and autonomous descent from orbit (deorbit) for small satellites using non-toxic propellant. CU Aerospace will develop an engine for use in small satellites to enable multiple missions to capture space debris and drop multiple payloads of up to 180 kilograms over five years.

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Flight Works is tasked to bring its inline refueling capability technology to active space debris removal missions. In turn, Vestigo Aerospace will demonstrate the technology of space sails for deorbiting small satellites to check whether they reliably open even after five years in orbit.

The American space agency is also thinking about the technologies needed to explore the surface of planets and moons, especially the Moon and Mars. In this case, the problem is dust, which significantly shortens the life of rovers or other instruments. In this regard, two technologies were selected. Applied Material Systems Engineering, Inc. will demonstrate its dust-repellent coating technology in simulated space environments. ATSP Innovations will create prototype solutions in the field of bearing materials.

For $20 million

A total of six of these companies selected by NASA will receive a total of $20 million. The prototypes developed by them will be tested during space flights.

This is a continuation of support previously provided by Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), NASA’s program for companies with fewer than 500 employees. Nearly $180 million has been invested in the program so far.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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