Rensselaer inventors created a multi-launch system and capture method to effectively clean up debris in a cost-effective manner. Operationally, the method consists of deploying a small-sized object called the CubeSat. This is a small satellite with a low mass and can be part of the launch of another larger satellite or other space-based object. The CubeSat is launched into space at the same orbit as the main payload. From there, it uses its built-in capabilities to maneuver itself to the desired orbit where space debris of the right size are present that need to be captured and destroyed. The CubeSat has multiple parts to it that allow for performing actions such as propulsion, command-and control and capture. These separate modules allows for the unit to move from one location to another and deploy the capture mechanism. Power is supplied using solar panels that are mounted on the side of the unit. The most important part of the unit is the capture module that contains multiple barrels – each barrel having the capability of capturing and deorbiting a single piece of debris of a particular size (e.g. 10-20 cm

in dimension and 1 kg mass). The capture mechanism barrels are jettisoned out of the module and use a capture net to catch debris. The net is tethered to the barrel and has its own battery power source. The net captures the debris and then the barrel uses the earth’s magnetic field to slow down and drop to a lower orbit. As it descends into the earth’s atmospheric region through orbital decay, the tether-net-debris system burns up like a meteor. Multiple barrels in the module allow for several debris items to be captured and destroyed in this manner. After all the barrels have been deployed, the CubeSat itself deorbits and burns up upon re-entry.

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Natasha Sanford