NASA has a cool new plan being developed by Aerospace Corporation. The Brane Craft. Currently in development by US based Aerospace Corporation, it is expected to be resilient, with a special built in back-up. If one component gets damaged, the others will continue to work.
I don’t need to spell out the problem with space debris. But I will.
5250 launches have taken place since Oct 4th 1957 (Sputnik 1 satellite launched)
Of missions launched since Sputnik, 23,000 still in orbit.
Of the above only 1200 are still operational.
Add in decommissioned satellites
Add in launch adaptors, len covers, spent upper stages…
Then toss in the many explosions, collisions of satellites or rocket bodies..
Then there are the objects that are not able to be tracked…
Apparently there are an estimated 166 million objects that range in size from 1 mm to 1 cm in diameter. Then there is the from 1 cm to 10cm – about 29,000 objects, the larger ones are estimated at 42,000.
Thanks to SpaceX, this number isn’t growing as fast as it could, but if it continues to grow at the current rate, heck even without growing but without dissipating, our pathway to space will be blocked in about 20 years.
So back to NASA’s cool idea – the Brane Spacecraft.
So, what is the definition of brane? An extended object with any given number of dimensions, of which strings in string theory are examples with one dimension; Our universe is a 3-brane.
That didn’t help did it?
Basically the goal is the removal of debris from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) through rendezvous, conformal wrapping, and application of thrust.
There are lots of really cool ideas out there by all of the space faring nations but unfortunately they all are also rather costly. Suppose you were to Send conventional spacecraft, even 1-to-5 kg CubeSats, to each of the thousands of 10-cm or larger debris objects for active deorbiting. It quickly becomes prohibitively expensive. With current CubeSat launch costs of ~$250,000 for a 3U CubeSat with ~kilometer/s delta-V propulsion and 3-axis attitude control, the U.S. would spend close to billion dollars in launch costs alone to remove 4 thousand debris objects.
Brane Craft could significantly reduce that cost and enable removal of more objects.
Researchers have developed this ultrathin spacecraft capable of wrapping itself around debris in space. Then it will be directed back towards Earth, burning all the debris it collects up in reentry.
It is a net-like device approximately a yard across and self-powered. Developer’s goal is to make its width less than half the width of a human hair. This can make other areas of more concern. The Brane Spacecraft needs to be highly capable and withstand damage. And because a 5-micron diameter particle can penetrate the main structural sheet as if it were a bullet, it is being made so that if one component is damaged the rest will not be affected.
Because Brane is being designed so thin, it should be cheaper to launch. One also could launch several, like a swarm, to take down different sorts of debris.
As one who sees space as figuring in to the future in many cool ways, I understand the situation and hope for a solution. Identifying a problem is not much assistance if there is no follow through.
NASA, you have my blessing!