Starfish Space will look into a plan to inspect space junk

Even as Starfish Space works to get its first orbital demonstration mission back on track, the Tukwila, Wash.-based startup has won a contract from NASA to look into an even more ambitious project to inspect orbital debris up close.

The newly announced study contract follows up on earlier work that Starfish has done to prove out features of its system for making a rendezvous with other spacecraft in orbit — and either servicing them or guiding them to their demise.

Some of those features — including Starfish’s Cetacean relative navigation software and its Cephalopod autonomous guidance software — could be tested sometime in the next few months on the company’s Otter Pup prototype spacecraft, which was sent into orbit in June but was forced into an unfortunate spin during deployment. Starfish stabilized the spin in August and is currently making sure that all of Otter Pup’s systems are in working order for future tests.

NASA’s follow-up contract, awarded through the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR, calls for Starfish Space to assess the feasibility of using its full-scale Otter satellite servicing vehicle to rendezvous with large pieces of space debris and inspect them.

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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