What goes up must come down

Cleaning up space, one satellite at a time

5 Ratings

Imagine yourself without the internet, cell phone service, GPS, or accessible use of your credit and debit cards. These are just few of the inconveniences that could transpire if orbital debris isn’t mitigated in space. MMA Design’s dragNET de-orbit system has been proven to bring down spacecrafts in a quick timeframe that is significantly less than the 25 year requirement designated by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee.

THE CHALLENGE

There are currently thousands of pieces of manmade orbital debris in low Earth orbit (LEO). Fragments created from on-orbit collisions, along with an increasing launch rate and accidental on-board explosions, create an ever-increasing debris population. Colliding with orbital debris poses a huge risk to functioning satellites. A reduction in the growth of LEO orbital debris should be a critical goal for all space stakeholders. The best way to decrease the debris field population, or at least decrease its growth, is to remove satellites from orbit quickly after their end of life (EOL). MMA Designs created an alternative de-orbit approach with a high reliability, low-volume, low-mass, low-cost, modular and scalable de-orbit system for LEO satellites. The approach vastly increases the cross-sectional area of the satellite, significantly increasing the atmospheric drag and greatly reducing the time needed for the satellite to de-orbit. Ultimately, the result is a safer space environment.

WHY IT MATTERS

Space mitigation is important many industries, including space flight, communications, banking and military surveillance, and is also key to making space safe for future generations. A 2009 joint study of the current space debris environment performed by all major space agencies, including NASA and ESA, showed even if no further space launches take place, the space debris population will continue to increase, resulting in a growing collision rate. Increased debris and collision rates in turn lead to potential irreversible pollution. Unfortunately, conventional approaches to de-orbit satellites are limited to an expensive and massive propulsion system for de-orbit burn, or slow and natural decay from atmospheric drag. While the slow, natural decay doesn't meet the 25-year de-orbit requirement, MMA Design's dragNET system has the opportunity to replace propulsion as a passive means to de-orbit spacecrafts.

THE SOLUTION

MMA Design developed the dragNET under the AFRL Phase 1 SBIR, with the goal of achieving de-orbit without impacting a mission satellite’s performance. The systemized approach, which accounted for system design and satellite integration, created an effective and simple mechanical solution. At the satellite’s EOL, the gossamer structure deploys, greatly increasing the atmospheric drag on the satellite and significantly reducing de-orbit time. Due to the nature of the atmosphere and parameters that affect the atmospheric drag, the system will result in de-orbit times of a few months to a couple years, ten to forty times faster than satellites undergoing natural orbit decay.

"The DoD Space Test Program is very pleased with how the DragNet de-orbit system is working; even with an offset in the placement we have at least a 50 percent reduction in de-orbit time. " — Theodore Marrujo

HOW IT WORKS

The MMA Design dragNET de-orbit system, consisting of the de-orbit module (DOM) and stand-off mechanism (SOM), provides a simple solution for spacecrafts and launch vehicles to meet the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee requirement for de-orbit from LEO, or 25 years after EOL. The DOM’s deployment is powered by the stowed energy of the spring-deployed pantographs, and is initiated after the release mechanism’s heater circuits are powered by a 28VDC nominal voltage. Release occurs after approximately two minutes of power at -45 degrees Celsius, and 15 seconds of power at 75 degrees Celsius. Power is turned off to the release unit via an integrated limit switch or timed event. After release, the damped deployment takes approximately three seconds in ambient conditions, which then deploys a 14m2 membrane using the pantographs that structure the membrane tension. After deployment, the dragNET takes a pyramidal shape to provide passive stability for improving de-orbit efficiency and effectiveness. The DOM is simple to integrate, consisting of 4 mounting fasteners and an electrical connector. The SOM is optional and helps provide clearance for the DOM deployment if necessary .

IMPACT FOR THE FUTURE

Communication is essential for men and women in the service. Due to all the orbital debris in space, using the MMA’s dragNET de-orbit system would limit future debris and make space more safe and effective for satellite communication and manned space vehicles.

MMA Design is a small business, and the AFRL SBIR was the kick starter program that allowed MMA’s engineers to show their years of talent to design and develop a capability that has been successful in space. MMA’s reputation has grown since the development of dragNET, and the company has since developed and will be flying a deployable solar array series, as well as a DaHGR antenna, the design of which is based on the dragNET.

MMA’s dragNET de-orbit system increases U.S. competition by opening more space in space, de-orbiting spacecrafts faster than ever before and allowing new spacecrafts and technology to launch and reside safely. By using the de-orbit system, the United States is acting responsibly, setting an example to other countries to respect the future of space and generations to follow.

The dragNET spawned development of a deployable reflectarray antenna architecture that leverages and modifies a flight-demonstrated deployable membrane de-orbit system to include RF antenna capabilities over a wide range of frequencies. Incorporating additional structural and RF capabilities into the heritage-deployable system to create a Deployable High Gain Reflectarray (DaHGR) will require multiple modifications, however this commercialization transition effort will take the DaHGR to a TRL 9.

The small packaging and low mass enables these spacecraft to retain more of their payload capacity, which helped STPSat-3 fly five experimental payloads for customers including the Air Force and NASA. — David Acton, STPSat-3 Program Manager at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

Extending the life of your mission

Due to the passive nature of the dragNET de-orbit system, fuel normally used for de-orbit can be used for extended operational life. Additionally, the dragNET system can be tailored to a variety of satellites and missions.

MMA Design LLC

mmadesignllc.com

2555 55th St. Suite 104 Boulder, CO 80303

MMA specializes in space power, deployables, apertures and structures, designed for all spacecrafts. Our responsive team combines unmatched creativity with extensive spaceflight systems and hardware experience to design and deliver high-quality, elegant solutions to challenging requirements.

Mitchell Wiens Mitchell Wiens

Mitchell Wiens

President

Jeffrey Harvey Jeffrey Harvey

Jeffrey Harvey

Chief Technical Officer

Edward Smutney Edward Smutney

Edward Smutney

Systems Engineer

TOPIC TITLE:

Low Cost Deorbiting System

TOPIC NUMBER:

AF083-198

CONTRACT NUMBER:

FA9453-10-C-0033

For more exciting Air Force launch stories, visit launchstories.org

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