The world’s first “suicide” satellite, whose destruction will help prevent the spread of more damaging belts of space debris, will launch later this month.
The Italian company D-Orbit will launch a mission June 23 to test out a self-decommissioning satellite called D-Sat, a first for the satellite industry. After the satellite’s mission is complete, it will use a rocket system to lower itself back into Earth’s atmosphere so it can self-destruct. D-Orbit hopes that a similar system could help prevent future satellites from becoming new space debris.
“This mission is a milestone in how we deal with the problem of space debris,” Dr. Luca Rossettini, co-founder of D-Orbit, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We believe that everything that goes up should come down as soon as it served its purpose. Our dream is to have a D3 installed in every new satellite by 2025.”
Orbiting debris poses a serious risk to spacecraft, so several governments are searching for methods to make space safe again. Even the U.S. Department of Defense worries that debris could make it difficult to operate essential military satellites.
Due to the enormous velocities of anything moving in space, a collision between a spacecraft and debris can destroy both objects and create even more debris. Scientists worry that this could create a feedback loop of collisions between garbage and spacecraft, starting a cascading effect called the Kessler Syndrome. Under this scenarios, enough debris could be created to prevent virtually any spacecraft from operating. D-Orbit’s system could make this a much less dangerous problem by preventing any new space junk from entering orbit.
“This is an important mission for society as a whole: it is the demonstration that today it is possible to do business in space and improve satellites’ performance without endangering the business, and society, of the future,” Rossettini said. “I believe it’s fundamental that all of us realize how intertwined space and life on Earth are, and how this symbiosis can help us develop our society in a more sustainable way. I like to think that D-Sat will also help us spread this message.”
More than 50 years of human space exploration since the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite in 1957 have produced an extremely hazardous belt of orbiting debris. Scientists estimate that there are currently more than 100 million pieces of debris in orbit, and satellites and the International Space Station (ISS) log over 100 minor collisions with space debris every year.
D-Orbit’s satellite will lift three scientific experiments from universities into orbit before testing its self-destruct feature.
“Other than validating our technology, D-Sat will perform three in-orbit experiments, one of which in particular will collect data to help improve communications in emergency scenarios with areas affected by natural disasters,” Dr. Alessio Fanfani, a project manager involved with the mission, told TheDCNF. “This aspect of the mission will be partially funded by a crowdfunding campaign which is currently on Kickstarter.”
The satellite will control its re-entry so that it breaks up over the Atlantic Ocean to minimize risks to humans.
“When we started working on the project we were five people and an empty room; everything was a challenge,” Lorenzo Ferrario, Chief Technical Officer of D-Orbit, told TheDCNF. “It’s not just about the spacecraft and the project, but also the capabilities, the team, and everything else that surrounds this project. This mission has affected all of us deeply, and for the better. And to think this is just the beginning.”
An experimental Japanese mission attempted to actively remove space junk from Earth’s orbit in February, but it utterly failed. Scientists at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) worked with NASA to develop a tether-like device to catch and drag space junk out of orbit around Earth.
The Japanese tether was supposed to generate electricity by swinging through the Earth’s magnetic field, which it would use to slow down space junk until it was pulled it into a lower orbit where it would ultimately burn up. Japanese efforts intended to neutralize space debris from cast-off equipment from old satellites and pieces of rocket, but problems arose quickly and they were unable to deploy the tether.
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