The Orbotic Systems Space Debris Solution
Space Debris has created a growing threat to space operations in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) due to quantity, trajectory, mass, size, and unpredictability. At this time there are roughly 25,000 pieces of space debris (NASA, 2022) that are larger than 10 cm. A collision event between an orbiting spacecraft and an object of space debris may cause irreversible damage to the craft and generate a multitude of further debris. Since the turn of the millennium, there has been an exponential growth in space debris. As an example of the danger, impact by an object the size of a human hand moving at 50,000 km/hour will lead to an explosion similar to a hand grenade. As human activities in space increase, it is reasonable to expect that the number of space debris will also increase. Space debris removal is a challenging task. Effective removal will require a unique combination of target identification, threat determination, forecasting, and equipment that can accomplish the goal expeditiously at a low cost.
A new approach to space debris remediation technology is proposed here. The device is an orbital robot (ORBOT) that can operate independently or in a swarm. The ORBOT unit and the swarm operate together as an “Orbot Squad.”
Launch – The ORBOT emphasizes a low weight compact design that allows the ORBOT unit and the supporting swarm-bots to be launched with other cargo. The ORBOT is practical and reduces size, weight, power, and fuel requirements for space missions.
Detection – Various sensor devices can be implemented including radio communication with agencies that track orbital space debris, Narrow-Angle Camera (NAC), Wide Angle Camera, Laser Range Finder (LIDAR), and Neural Net (NN) navigation computers with image processing algorithms. Some of these sensors will be located on the swarm satellites while other larger and more expensive equipment is ground based. Each ORBOT is in communication with the swarm, facilitating multiple computer and sensory analysis onsite. Orbotic Systems has already identified a Neural Net processor with flight heritage. We call the hardware and software the AI Command & Control (AI C&C) Module. The proprietary module also has the ability to interface and control multiple spacecraft subsystems.
Threat Analysis – Once the debris has been identified, ORBOT onboard computer systems will make a determination of which debris is the greatest threat and has the highest chance for removal with the least collateral damage. Onboard algorithms and mission planning must also take into account the actual swarm itself. The Orbot Squad should not pose any additional threat by creating more orbital space debris. Further, the AI C&C Module can detect and calculate the odds of a collission and perform an avoidance maneuver autonomously.
Propulsion – Ideally an inexpensive and safe form of propulsion should be considered for the swarm and ORBOT. We have solved this problem with our Deorbit Drag Device (D3) technology. Not only can the D3 perform orientation maneuvers, but it can also deorbit a dead satellite without any propellant. This game changing technology further enhances the Orbot, while maintaining much more safety than rocket thrusters using explosive propellant.
Capture – Connecting with space debris can pose various challenges. While nets have been suggested in the past, a direct approach is proposed here with one or more ORBOTS targeting the debris. The AI C&C Module can do calculation intensive tumble rate analysis on the fly. This, in combination with NASA robotic gripper technology, including the Gecko Gripper, will allow the Orbot to connect with a dead satellite.
Removal – Removal can include the ORBOT itself. Because of their small size, the bots are capable of coming into contact with the debris and deorbiting it with the D3. Further, a D3 in combination with the AI C&C Module can be added to a SmallSat before launch. This will allow the operator to control a constellation without explosive propellant, back-up a propellant system, perform a collission avoidance maneuver, and deorbit the satellite at the end of the mission. This can all be done with our cost effective solution.
Specific details of the aforementioned business model and technology are available upon request. Orbotic Systems is searching for qualified partners in academia, industry, and government to eliminate a growing threat to all of us on Earth.