‘Terminator Tape’ will fight orbital debris

Terminator Tape
One version of the Terminator Tape system is designed to be integrated onto a 4-inch-wide CubeSat. A dime is included in the picture for a size comparison. (Tethers Unlimited Photo)

Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited will have its technology for deorbiting space debris put to its most ambitious test next year, during a satellite mission that will be conducted in league with TriSept Corp.Millennium Space Systems and Rocket Lab.

The technology, known as Terminator Tape, involves placing a module on a small satellite that can unwind a stretch of electrically conductive tape when it’s time to dispose of the satellite.

“This tape will significantly increase the aerodynamic cross-section of the satellite, enhancing the drag it experiences due to neutral particles,” Tethers Unlimited says in an online explainer. “In addition, the motion of this tape across the Earth’s magnetic field will induce a voltage along the tape. This voltage will drive a current to flow up the tape, with electrons collected from the conducting ionospheric plasma at the top of the tape and ions collected at the bottom. This current will induce a ‘passive electrodynamic’ drag force on the tape.”

The increased drag should dramatically shorten the timetable for dragging a satellite down to its fiery atmospheric re-entry.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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