LOGAN, Utah – TriSept Corp., a launch integration and mission management company based in Chantilly, Virginia, announced a launch services agreement Aug. 5 with Rocket Lab and Millennium Space Systems for Dragracer, a mission to demonstrate technology to de-orbit satellites at the conclusion of their missions.
Rapid growth of the small satellite industry is raising concerns about debris in low Earth orbit, making the Dragracer mission very timely, TriSept CEO Rob Spicer told SpaceNews.
Millennium, a Boeing subsidiary, is designing and building the 25-kilogram Dragracer satellite, which is scheduled to launch in early 2020 on a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle to a 400-kilometer circular sun synchronous orbit.
Once in orbit, the Dragracer satellite will split into two payloads. One will unfurl Tethers Unlimited’s Terminator Tape, a conductive tape designed to produce enough drag to lower the satellite’s orbit.
By comparing the payload that unfurls the tether with the one that does not, mission partners will be able to measure how the Terminator Tape increases drag and shortens the satellite’s on-orbit lifespan, said Jason Armstrong, TriSept launch and integration services director.
Armstrong predicts one of the payloads will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in two to four weeks, while the other will remain in orbit for eight months to a year. Through the upcoming flight, mission partners also will learn how large Terminator Tapes need to be for spacecraft of various sizes, he added.
TriSept plans to integrate the Dragracer spacecraft with the launch vehicle and procure the small satellite dispenser. TriSept also is working with Millennium and Rocket Lab to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals from government agencies in the United States and New Zealand.
“The Dragracer mission is all about providing an affordable, effective and scalable solution to the orbital debris challenge facing the LEO small satellite market and the global space industry,” Mike Scardera, Millennium Space Systems advanced concepts vice president, said in a statement. “It is the first in a series of critical project missions we expect to launch with TriSept. By working with such a seasoned support crew, we can focus on building the best flight solutions for today’s challenges in space.”
Armstrong is optimistic about the potential of the Terminator Tape to reduce space debris. “There needs to be a way to take a satellite out of orbit without adding a lot of cost and complexity,” he said.
Since it was founded in 1994, TriSept has integrated more than 200 satellites on 20 different launch vehicles at 13 launch sites, Spicer said.