Friday, June 14, 2024

Method for Removing Orbital Space Debris from Near Earth Orbit using the Solar Wind with PRRISM (Platform for Redirecting and Removing Inert Space Material)

Ironstar Engineering (IE), LLC is developing the PRRISM satellite system for the remediation of small space debris in the near earth orbits and allowing the safe operation of spacecraft systems in low Earth orbit.  This will benefit the US government, US commercial companies as well as the international community.  IE holds three US patents and offers a unique system capable of operating outside of the debris orbit and utilizing the solar wind to remove small space debris from near earth orbits.

A variety of debris types from rocket bodies and defunct satellites to satellite fragments greater than 10 cm in diameter make up the more than 30,000 pieces of debris currently tracked in a variety of near earth orbits.  However, this represents only 1% of the millions of pieces of debris such as bolts, paint chips and frozen fuel droplets, etc. currently not trackable and smaller than the 10 cm tracking limit. There have been 3 significant collisions that have contributed to the debris problem in the past. The first was a Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007, a second was a collision between an inoperative Russian Cosmos satellite and an active Iridium satellite and a third occurred in 2021 as a result of a Russian anti-satellite test.  Each contributed more than 3000 pieces of debris.  This debris is traveling in the lower earth orbits at speeds of approximately 9 km/s. An active satellite collision with an object greater than 10 cm would be a catastrophic event. Collisions with smaller objects could be fatal depending on the location where the strike occurs or at best it could be a life limiting event.

US Space Policy Directive-3, National Space Traffic Management Policy, dated June 18, 2018, refined the responsible organizational agencies and their respective roles for space debris mitigation and remediation.  The recent National Orbital Debris Research and Development Plan dated January 2021 further refines the requirements into 3 essential elements. One sub-element characterizes the R&D priorities as: Develop remediation technologies and techniques for small-debris objects. PRRISM addresses this sub-element.  Further, it aligns with the R&D topical areas assigned to the following agencies missions: Department of Commerce (DOC), Department of Defense (DOD) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Ironstar Engineering, LLC founded in 2020, offers an innovative, and patented remediation solution to the growing problem of small space debris in near earth orbit.  Ironstar is seeking funds to advance its technology. In September 2020, Ironstar Engineering published a peer-reviewed article describing the science and methodology of using solar wind for space debris remediation. The article was published in the quarterly Journal of Space Safety Engineering. In the near-Earth orbital environment, PRRISM will speed up orbital decay of debris objects. PRRISM combines scientific research of the sun-earth electromagnetic dynamic environment and applies proven engineering principles.  The PRRISM EM wave antenna will match to key parameters of the solar plasma in the polar cusp to optimize solar wind forces. This technology will create constructive interference and result in a temporary but stronger dynamic pressure force at the polar cusp exit. The targeting computer on board PRRISM will establish a 3D intercept with the debris cloud using telemetry data from the remote space debris (SDS) and solar plasma (SPS) sensors causing the deorbiting of targeted debris in large quantities.

This is a dual use venture that addresses the growing threat of space debris in near earth orbits. Not only are military space operations compromised, but everyday communications, navigation, and weather satellites are at risk of a collision from known trackable space debris or from the millions of unseen and un-trackable space objects.  Space debris is a threat to all active satellites operating in low Earth orbit particularly in the most highly populated polar orbits referred to as the sun synchronous orbits (SSO).  PRRISM would operate in a highly elliptical orbit at a 10 Earth radius apogee and will remove all small debris from polar orbits.

The Department of Commerce (DOC) is charged with managing space situational awareness (SSA) and space traffic management (STM).  In support of the DOC is the Air Force, Space Force and NASA.  Thousands of satellites are being added to low Earth orbit increasing the congestion on the orbital highways and the risk of collisions. Mitigation of this risk is expected to contribute to making a significant positive impact in the technology-driven future.

According to Space News, satellite development costs would range between $50 million and $400 million depending on instrumentation and materials. Launch costs vary between $50 million and $400 million. CubeSats would cost an estimated $50,000 to build with launch costs of $30,000. A launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9 is $57 million. Additionally, there is launch insurance of $20 million, on-orbit insurance of $20 million, and satellite operations costs of $15 million over a 15 year life.  In summary the consequence for losing one satellite could be close to $1 billion. Continued growth of satellites in near earth orbits risk a Kessler syndrome resulting in a cascade of debris causing collisions that would close certain orbits. PRRISM is a novel use of space-based assets. In the near-Earth orbital environment, it will operate outside the debris orbits and speed up orbital decay of debris objects allowing for safe satellite operation and space commerce growth.