TAMPA, Fla. — Odin Space is preparing to start detecting tiny but potentially dangerous pieces of orbital debris in the coming weeks from a sensor on a recently launched space tug, according to the British startup’s cofounder and CEO James New.

The venture announced June 27 that it had successfully powered up the demo sensor, integrated with D-Orbit’s small satellite-carrying ION orbital transfer vehicle that SpaceX launched earlier this month to low Earth orbit.

The sensor’s sensitivity is cranked up high to detect background vibrations from the host satellite to test core systems, New said, but will be tuned for detecting surrounding debris as small as one-tenth of a millimeter.

Sub-centimeter debris are too small to track with current systems but can pack enough kinetic energy to damage spacecraft they collide with in orbit. 

Odin aims to record and analyze the size, speed, and trajectory of tiny debris from the vibrations they generate as they perforate its sensor’s substrates. By launching hundreds of sensors on third-party satellites, the startup aims to build a dynamic, high-resolution map of the sub-centimeter debris environment.

While the demo sensor is designed to operate for about two months of D-Orbit’s expected two-year mission life, New said future sensors would collect data for the lifetime of the host satellite. 

He said Odin is also working on upgrading its sensor technology to acquire more data and increase compatibility with a wider range of satellite formats. 

The venture plans to start launching next-generation sensors in 2024 and deploy more than 10 of them per year across LEO and geostationary orbit as hosted payloads.

After securing more than $500,000 in pre-seed funding and grants from the U.K.’s space agency, New said the three-year-old company is getting ready to look for more investments to expand its customer base and deploy the first phase of this sensor network.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...