Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited says it has completed an on-time delivery of 15 S-band software-defined radios in support of a small-satellite constellation mission being developed by Millennium Space Systems, a Boeing subsidiary.
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.
As promised, Boeing has completed its acquisition of California-based Millennium Space Systems, a provider of small-satellite solutions. Millennium, which has about 260 employees, will operate as a subsidiary of Boeing Phantom Works. When the acquisition plan was announced in August, Boeing said it’d be completed by the end of September. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Boeing says it’ll expand its already-strong satellite portfolio with the acquisition of Millennium Space Systems, a California-based venture that specializes in small satellites for national security customers.
Founded in 2001, Millennium had its first satellite, the 200-kilogram (440-pound) Rapid Pathfinder Prototype, launched in 2011 for the National Reconnaissance Office’s NROL-66 mission. Millennium says it provided more than six years of operations for three classified payloads.
The privately held company was awarded a U.S. Air Force contract for a geosynchronous satellite system, based on its Aquila platform. It also won backing from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for a class of small satellites that can be built in 90 days for less than $500,000.
The first satellite in that class, Altair Pathfinder, was deployed into orbit from the International Space Station last year.
“Millennium Space Systems’ expertise in vertically integrated small-satellite solutions perfectly complements Boeing’s existing satellite portfolio, and will allow us to meet the needs of a diverse customer set,” Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, said today in a news release.
“We look forward to incorporating Millennium Space Systems’ end-to-end mission solution capabilities into our service offerings in satellite operations and data solutions,” Caret said.
The company, based in Bothell, Wash., is developing the Hydros as a safe-to-launch propulsion system for CubeSats and other small satellites. The thrusters measure about 4 inches wide. They run on hydrogen and oxygen, which can be produced in space by splitting water molecules (H2O) using solar-powered electrolysis.
Hydrogen and oxygen gases are burned in the thrusters to propel satellites during maneuvers. The propulsion method is similar to the principle that’s been used for the space shuttle main engines and Blue Origin’s BE-3 rocket engine, but on a much smaller scale.
Tethers Unlimited says the water-electrolysis method makes it possible for tiny satellites to carry a fuel source that’s non-explosive, non-toxic and unpressurized.