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Millennium Space Systems to test space debris remediation technology

(30 October 2020 - Millennium Space Systems) Two Millennium Space Systems-built small satellites have cleared pre-mission readiness reviews and have arrived at a launch site in New Zealand for a first-of-its kind, scientific method, controlled flight experiment in November involving deployable tether technology.

The two identical small satellites will be part of the DRAGRACER controlled flight experiment, which will demonstrate and mature deployable tether technology that enables low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites to return faster and more-reliably, and help safely lessen the growing problem of orbital debris congestion.

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Technicians at Millennium Space Systems in El Segundo, Calif., ready a satellite for the DRAGRACER scientific flight experiment. DRAGRACER will demonstrate deployable tether technology that will allow low-Earth orbiting satellites to return safely, faster, and more-reliably. One satellite is equipped with a 70-meter-long tether that will be deployed on orbit. Both have arrived at Rocket Lab’s New Zealand test site for launch in mid-November. (courtesy: Millennium Space Systems)

“We are motivated to study and quantify means in which to mitigate orbital debris, which is a worldwide concern,” said Stan Dubyn, founder and CEO of Millennium Space Systems. “With improved deorbit capabilities and unique yet credible alternative solutions particularly applicable to the growing problem of orbital debris, this experiment is applicable to all sizes and classes of LEO satellites,” Dubyn said. “This experiment exemplifies our commitment to fielding innovative concepts and taking them straight to flight using low-cost solutions that will provide a viable alternative to requiring a propulsion system to deorbit a LEO satellite.”

The twin satellites have been integrated as one unit atop a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle and are scheduled to be launched in Mahia, New Zealand, in mid-November. One satellite, called ALCHEMY, is equipped with a 70-meter-long Tethers Unlimited Terminator Tape that will be unfurled in low-Earth orbit. The tether will increase the surface area of the spacecraft and is expected to cause it to slow, sink and burn up as it falls from Earth’s upper atmosphere in approximately 45 days. The other satellite, AUGURY, the control for the experiment, is expected to follow a natural decay trajectory of between five and seven-and-a-half years.

Millennium Space Systems engineers will monitor the telemetry of both satellites and compare flight data with predictive deorbit models.

“It’s taken us only 18 months to conceive and develop DRAGRACER – a great example of Millennium’s fast-paced development process to field innovative technologies on low-cost satellite platforms,” said Dr. Patrick Kelly, Millennium Space Systems’ DRAGRACER program manager. “With the results gained from this experiment, we expect to be better able to apply space tether benefits to address the orbital debris problem.”

The DRAGRACER mission is a collaborative effort involving Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing subsidiary; Tethers Unlimited; mission launch service provider TriSept; and Rocket Lab.