The U.S. Space Force’s (USSF) SPACEWERX innovation arm is seeking the help of small businesses and academia that have demonstrated commercial solutions applicable to on-orbit debris removal and satellite repair.
SPACEWERX wants “to explore potential commercial products being developed in the emerging On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (OSAM) market, to include life extension; satellite refueling; on-orbit inspection; orbit transfer; end of life servicing, for potential use in Active Debris Removal (ADR), reuse and recycling of materials to build the foundation for assembly and manufacturing in space,” according to a Nov. 17 SPACEWERX Orbital Prime business notice.
“Proposers are encouraged to explore Modular Open Source Architecture (MOSA) tools such as the Robot Operating System (ROS-2), Gazebo, NASA’s TRICK or cFS,” the notice said. “Use of such open tools will speed integration and allow for broader adoption across multiple agencies.”
Debris removal and satellite repair will likely be important USSF missions in future years.
The Nov. 15 test of a Russian direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) weapon against one of that nation’s non-functioning satellites generated more than 1,500 pieces of trackable debris and hundreds of thousands of smaller pieces, U.S. officials said this week (Defense Daily, Nov. 15).
If true, the ASAT test would have thrown off roughly half the debris of a 2007 Chinese DA-ASAT test that created 3,000 pieces of orbital debris larger than 10 centimeters.
Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of U.S. Space Command, said that “the debris created by Russia’s DA-ASAT will continue to pose a threat to activities in outer space for years to come, putting satellites and space missions at risk, as well as forcing more collision avoidance maneuvers.”
The Russian test appears to have been a Russian Nudol DA-ASAT weapon against the defunct Russian Cosmos 1408 electronic intelligence satellite, launched on Sept. 16, 1982. The Nudol is a ballistic missile designed to intercept satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).
Last November, former Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett called on industry to help in cleaning up space debris to prevent future collisions in space.
Last year, NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office (ODPO) said there were 23,000 large pieces of debris greater than 10 centimeters tracked by the Space Force’s U.S. Space Surveillance Network.
“Prior to [the Chinese DA-ASAT test in] 2007, the principal source of debris was from explosions of launch vehicle upper stages and spacecraft,” ODPO said last year. “The intentional destruction of the Fengyun-1C weather satellite by China in 2007 and the accidental collision of the American communications satellite, Iridium-33, and the retired Russian spacecraft, Cosmos-2251, in 2009 greatly increased the number of large debris in orbit and now represent one-third of all cataloged orbital debris.”