Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing (NYSE: BA) company, has successfully demonstrated the ability of deployable tether technology to significantly reduce the time a satellite remains on-orbit after service life completion.
Dragracer is the first, direct comparison of a drag tape on two identical satellites. The satellite, outfitted with a 70 m Terminator Tape® developed by Tethers Unlimited, burned upon reentry to Earth’s atmosphere after eight months. The satellite without tape will naturally de-orbit unaided on its journey back to Earth after at least seven years.
The Terminator Tape® creates additional surface area that interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere to create drag, which draws satellites back to Earth faster. The tape is deployed with a simple mechanism when a satellite is ready to de-orbit. And, because the tape is so lightweight, it has no effect on the satellite’s primary mission.
Millennium Space designed and developed Dragracer in just nine months – and Dragracer then launched from Auckland, New Zealand, on November 19, 2020. The program was a collaborative effort with Tethers Unlimited, mission launch service provider TriSept and launch vehicle provider, Rocket Lab.
“Thousands of satellites will launch over the next decade, creating serious congestion in low Earth orbit,” said Patrick Kelly, Ph.D., Dragracer program manager at Millennium Space Systems. “What we’ve proven is a way to safely and deliberately deorbit retired satellites. If a satellite has a two-year operational life, you’re looking at a big piece of space debris sticking around for potentially decades. With drag tape, we significantly reduce the time it remains space debris, and it’s one less piece of debris to track.”
“Dragracer is the first complete demonstration of safe and rapid deorbit of a satellite by the Terminator Tape Deorbit Module,” said Robert Hoyt, president of Tethers Unlimited. “The Terminator Tape is an affordable, lightweight, patented, and now flight-proven solution for responsible end-of-mission disposal of satellites to help ensure the long-term sustainability of space operations.”