The Russian startup StartRocket is developing Foam Debris Catcher, a small, self-contained satellite that will capture and remove space debris using sticky polymer foam. A small spaceship spewing foam can seriously help with space debris in the coming years. Foam can even serve as a building material on Mars if everything goes according to plan, Space.com reports.
According to estimates by the European Space Agency, about 129 million fragments are in low Earth orbit, 34,000 of which are at least 10 centimeters wide. These objects are carried in space with great speed – for example, 28,200 km / h in low Earth orbit. Therefore, even tiny fragments can seriously damage a satellite or a spaceship.
And, according to experts, the threat of space debris is increasing. We are putting much more material into orbit than before. Humanity has launched at least 10,000 satellites since the advent of the space age in 1957. Only SpaceX received permission to lift 12,000 ships only for its constellation of the Internet satellite Starlink and filed an application for approval of the launch of another 30,000 spacecraft.
A crowded orbital environment increases the risk of collisions. And just a few collisions involving satellites can give rise to huge new accumulations of garbage.
“If we do not take action soon, we will be in prison. We will be in jail from the trash.”Vlad Sitnikov, founder of StartRocket
StartRocket hopes that a 50 kg barrel-shaped foam trap will help us avoid going to jail. The satellite will squeeze the grill out of the foam as it approaches the clouds of debris, capturing it. Atmospheric resistance will affect the fragments enclosed in the shell, sending them to the Earth’s atmosphere, where they will burn.
StartRocket has already been successful in working with foam, but still needs to refine the formula, said project manager Alexei Fedorov, a chemical engineer.
According to Sitnikov and Fedorov, the creation of a new formula and its testing here on Earth is the first major milestone for the company. The second stage, scheduled for 2022, is the launch of the cube, which will extrude the test sample in near-Earth orbit. You must make sure that the foam behaves as planned in the space environment. If the tests are successful, StartRocket will work on creating the first functional Foam Debris Catcher, possibly as early as 2023. Development at these early stages was supported by Kaspersky Lab.
Sticky foam technology can also find application far beyond Earth’s orbit, if everything goes according to plan. For example, Fedorov and Sitnikov suggest that such material will ultimately be used as a cheap and effective building material on Mars.
A foam barrel can be sent to the surface of Mars instead of huge metal structures for housing. According to Sitnikov, the device can provide enough foam for a large hemisphere. Astronauts can only use a knife to create their habitat.