Satellite Trash Collectors: Policies for Space Debris

Sept. 7, 2022
Space debris is an environmental problem. Rogue Space Systems is working to build orbital robots that can deal with the clutter.

View part 2: Orbots: Out of Sci-Fi and into Action

View part 3: Next Frontier: Space Disposal Systems and Satellite Servicing

Space junk, better known as orbital debris, is any human-made object in orbit around the Earth that no longer serves a useful function. Much more than a minor inconvenience, the U.S. Space Surveillance Network reports that the International Space Station regularly maneuvers away from detritus if the likelihood of a collision exceeds 1 in 10,000. On average, this occurs about once a year.

The Earth’s field has more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, according to tracking data from the Department of Defense’s global Space Surveillance Network (SSN) sensors. Since 2010, the official policy in the U.S. has made clear the need to preserve the space environment and minimize the creation of human-made debris.

The clutter is an environmental problem and companies like Rogue Space Systems are working to build orbital robots that can deal with space debris, said Jeromy Grimmett, founder & CEO, Rogue Space Systems.

“We had built the company around the idea of dealing with space debris…but what we quickly found out was that there was no market for it—no one was paying to solve that problem,” Grimmett said.

That was until late 2021, when General David D. Thompson, vice chief of Space Operations for the United States Space Force, stated that funding was available for commercial companies that can offer solutions to dealing with space debris mitigation.

In this video interview with Machine Design, Grimmett explains why New Hampshire-based Rogue embraced the opportunity head on. “In my opinion it’s a national security imperative that we deal with,” he said. “With the acceleration of commercial space, one interesting fact is that in the year 2021 there was more mass sent to space in one year than all the previous 70 years of space exploration combined.

READ MORE: Q&A: Clean up on the Space Aisle: Recovering Space Debris

About the Author

Rehana Begg | Editor-in-Chief, Machine Design

As Machine Design’s content lead, Rehana Begg is tasked with elevating the voice of the design and multi-disciplinary engineer in the face of digital transformation and engineering innovation. Begg has more than 24 years of editorial experience and has spent the past decade in the trenches of industrial manufacturing, focusing on new technologies, manufacturing innovation and business. Her B2B career has taken her from corporate boardrooms to plant floors and underground mining stopes, covering everything from automation & IIoT, robotics, mechanical design and additive manufacturing to plant operations, maintenance, reliability and continuous improvement. Begg holds an MBA, a Master of Journalism degree, and a BA (Hons.) in Political Science. She is committed to lifelong learning and feeds her passion for innovation in publishing, transparent science and clear communication by attending relevant conferences and seminars/workshops. 

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