EL SEGUNDO, Calif., Dec. 7, 2020 – Two Millennium Space Systems-built small satellites were launched into low-Earth orbit yesterday atop a Rocket Lab Electron launch vehicle in Mahia, New Zealand, as part of a first-of-its kind, scientific method, controlled flight experiment involving deployable tether technology.
The small satellites, part of the DRAGRACER controlled flight experiment, are demonstrating and maturing deployable tether technology that enables low-Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites to return faster and more-reliably, and help safely lessen the growing problem of orbital debris congestion.
“We all are striving to be good stewards of the space environment,” said Stan Dubyn, founder and CEO of Millennium Space Systems. “DRAGRACER is part of our proactive support to being those good stewards. This experiment will add to the body of knowledge on a unique, yet credible, alternative solution to mitigate the orbital debris problem and it is applicable to all sizes and classes of LEO satellites.”
One satellite, called ALCHEMY, is equipped with a 70-meter-long Tethers Unlimited Terminator Tape that was unfurled in low-Earth orbit. The tether increases the surface area of the spacecraft and is expected to cause it to slow, sink and burn up as it falls from Earth’s upper atmosphere in approximately 45 days. The other satellite, AUGURY, the control for the experiment, is expected to follow a natural decay trajectory of between five and seven-and-a-half years.
“Our engineers already have begun to monitor the telemetry of both satellites as they return to Earth and compare flight data with predictive deorbit models,” said Patrick Kelly, Millennium Space Systems’ DRAGRACER program manager.
The amateur satellite tracking community also is being encouraged to follow DRAGRACER’s progress via a web portal and provide images of the satellites as they descend.
The DRAGRACER mission is a collaborative effort of Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing subsidiary; Tethers Unlimited; mission launch service provider TriSept; and Rocket Lab.
“The population of space debris is already growing exponentially, and with numerous companies and government programs launching constellations of hundreds or thousands of satellites into low-Earth orbit, responsible stewardship of the orbital environment is crucial to ongoing use of space for commerce and defense,” said Robert Hoyt, founder and president of Tethers Unlimited.
“We are very excited and grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate our Terminator Tape as a cost-effective and low-mass solution for safe disposal of satellites at the end of their missions,” Hoyt said. “The scientific data the DRAGRACER experiment will generate will be very helpful in verifying its performance and in enabling us to develop further innovations for control and remediation of space debris.”
TriSept brokered the rideshare slot for the DRAGRACER mission spacecraft and led the integration of the payload aboard the launch vehicle. DRAGRACER marks TriSept’s 71st space mission, as the firm has now enabled the launch of over 200 satellites aboard 20 different launch vehicles from 13 launch sites across the globe.
“The TriSept team is thrilled to have led the integration effort for this historic DRAGRACER mission,” said Rob Spicer, TriSept CEO. “TriSept is committed to working with spacecraft manufacturers, technology partners, and government and commercial programs across the space industry in driving access to space for what are often game-changing missions such as DRAGRACER.”
About Millennium Space Systems, A Boeing Company
Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing Company, delivers high-performing prototype and constellation solutions across advanced national security and environmental observation missions. Founded in 2001, the company's small satellite missions support government, civil and commercial space customers' needs across orbits.
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