Experimental DragRacer satellites will test 'Terminator Tape' for space junk cleanup this fall

An artist rendering of the DragRacer experimental mission, which includes two satellites to test space debris deorbit technologies with and without a space tether.  (Image credit: Millennium Space Systems)

An experimental mission to test tether-based orbital debris cleanup method with "Terminator Tape" is slated to launch this fall to test the deorbit performance of two satellites. 

The Millennium Space Systems mission, called DragRacer, involves two small satellites that are set to launch simultaneously to low Earth orbit (LEO) to measure how fast satellites fall out of space. The goal, the company said, is to study technologies for removing space debris from orbit

One of the satellites will fall from orbit on its own. The second satellite, meanwhile, will use an onboard tether made of Terminator Tape that's designed to speed up reentry and deorbit the craft.

The California-based Millennium Space Systems, which specializes in small satellites for national security customers, will use a "Teminator Tape" tether developed by Tethers Unlimited for the tethered deorbit test. The company has partnered with TriSept Corp., a provider of launch integration and management services. TriSept Corp. developed the tether and will be the mission's launch service provider. 

Related: 7 Wild Ways to Destroy Orbital Debris

"We are motivated to study and quantify space tether applications as they will offer the LEO space community worldwide both improved deorbit capabilities and unique propulsive solutions," Stan Dubyn, Millennium Space Systems Founder and CEO, said in an emailed statement. "This orbital debris mitigation experiment exemplifies our commitment to fielding innovative concepts using low-cost solutions." 

The tether on the experimental satellite, called Alchemy, measures 230 feet (70 meters) long. A timer onboard the satellite will trigger tether deployment a few days into the mission. Millennium Space Systems will observe and evaluate the satellite's deorbit procedure.

The untethered satellite, called Augury, as designed for natural deorbit could take up to nine years to reenter Earth's atmosphere and burn up, while reentry estimates for the tether-toting Alchemy satellite are about a month and a half, or 45 days, according to the statement. Both satellites are based on Millennium Space System's Raptor cubesat design.

"The DragRacer mission is built on an innovative collaboration between Millennium Space Systems, TriSept, Tethers Unlimited and Rocket Lab that is dedicated to exploring and enabling creative and affordable solutions to the orbital debris challenge," TriSept president and CEO Rob Spicer, said in the same statement. "We look forward to leading the integration effort for this historic payload that could ultimately play an integral role in clearing orbital debris from Low Earth Orbit for years and generations to come." 

The two DragRacer satellites have already been built and tested for their mission to space. Next, the payload will be delivered to New Zealand and integrated aboard a Rocket Lab Electron booster in preparation for launch, which is planned for this fall, according to the statement. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.