It has been theorized that if the risk of colliding with an object grows too high, Earth orbit may actually become inaccessible. Millennium Space Systems has come up with a solution for the inactive satellites that circle our planet by drawing them back to Earth much faster.
In order to demonstrate its technology, the business built and qualified a spacecraft dubbed DragRacer. The spacecraft was designed in under nine months and launched on November 19th, 2020, from Auckland, New Zealand.
It carried two identical satellites to low Earth orbit, where they were deployed simultaneously. One hosted a tether, and the other did not. After eight months, the satellite equipped with the 70 m (66 ft) Terminator Tape burned up upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, while the other satellite will naturally de-orbit on its way back to Earth for at least seven years.
The Terminator Tape works by adding a new surface area that interacts with the Earth's atmosphere to create drag, which causes satellites to return to Earth faster. When a retired satellite is about to de-orbit, the tape is deployed with a simple mechanism. It's also light, thus it has little impact on the satellite's primary mission.
"With drag tape, we significantly reduce the time it remains space debris, and it's one less piece of debris to track.", said Patrick Kelly, Ph.D., Dragracer program manager at Millennium Space Systems.