It took only eight months for the Terminator Tape developed by Tethers Unlimited to descend a cubesat into the atmosphere of the Earth. Still, a virtually similar spacecraft without the 70-meter electrical tail is predicted to remain in the orbit for over a decade.
According to Rob Hoyt, founder, and president of Tethers Unlimited, a presentation presented at the digital Small Satellite Conference highlighted three Terminator Tape installations and provided persuasive proof that the technology may drastically speed up satellite reentry. Hoyt hopes that people will use tethers to assist clean up the environment in low Earth orbit (LEO), which is now polluted. “With the total number of satellites in the LEO increasing steadily and expected to develop even more rapidly within the next decade, withdrawing spent satellites as quickly as possible will offer substantial drops in dangers for the debris-generating collisions” Hoyt informed SpaceNews.
It was discussed in detail during the Tethers Unlimited presentation how Terminator Tapes were deployed on three different satellites: Alchemy, NPSat-1, which was developed by the Georgia Institute of Technology with financing provided by the United States Air Force Research Laboratory, and Prox-1, which was constructed by the Georgia Institute of Technology with financing provided by the United States Air Force.
Tethers Unlimited, Millennium Space Systems, TriSept Corporation, and Rocket Lab are collaborating on the Dragracer project, which will launch Alchemy and its twin spacecraft Augury in 2020 November as part of a strategy to evaluate the effect of an electrodynamic tether. Activating Alchemy’s Terminator Tape occurred after the two spacecraft were launched into orbit by Rocket Lab Electron and placed in a 500-kilometer orbit. July 19, 2021, marks the eight-month anniversary of Alchemy’s re-entry into the atmosphere of Earth. Augury is scheduled to follow anytime between 2032 – 2037.
Tethers Unlimited is strengthening its forecasts of the satellite deorbit rates based on the data collected from the three missions. Prox-1 and NPSat-1, which were launched in June of this year, are still in orbit. Prox-1 completed its mission and launched its Terminator Tape ninety days after the mission began. After 18 months, NPSat-1 completed the deployment of its Terminator Tape.
Both missions descended to lower heights as soon as their tethers were attached to the spacecraft. According to Harrison Stankey, a mechanical engineer with Tethers Unlimited, while they are still in orbit, the deorbit rates for NPSat-1 and Prox-1 will increase as solar activity increases over the next few years spoke at the Small Satellite Conference on August 10.
According to Hoyt, solar circumstances have a significant effect on Terminator Tapes, which generate drag through passive interactions with neutral elements in the ionospheric plasma and the upper atmosphere, which are generated by solar radiation. After the launch of the Terminator Tape, Stankey found that “decay levels for all spaceships are beyond an order of magnitude higher than before.” As a deorbit device, Terminator Tape has proven to be highly effective.