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Startup proposes capturing space junk with a satellite operating like a whale

Paladin satellite capturing space junk

Paladin, a new space junk removal startup based in Australia, has now proposed building a satellite that would literally swallow space junk and then send it over the ocean to burn up.

The image to the right shows the satellite as a piece of junk is about to be captured. The advantage it has on all other designs for capturing space junk is its simplicity. No nets, no harpoons, no grappling arms. The debris is captured inside a box inside the satellite, and then that box is released to burn up. This quote from the startup’s founder and CEO, Harrison Box, illustrates well his investment argument:

“The European Space Agency is currently paying 100 million euros to remove just one item of space junk. That’s the value they put on the job,” says Box. “Imagine the value of being able to remove hundreds.”

Paladin is one of 29 startups that have divided up $14 million in development money provided by a program of the Australian government. Thus, it is only at the very beginning of development, without a lot of cash to work with.

The idea however is smart, with great potential.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • An attractive design, though I would think a major challenge would be finding the balance between material durability in the capture apparatus (tougher = heavier), and the acceptable delta-v between the satellite and the debris. Delta-v and its attendant energy differences at orbital speeds is no joke, but the greater the tolerance, the less precise, and more fuel efficient, the approach can be.

    I hope the company is able to at least get a demonstrator on orbit, but will be a little disappointed if they don’t make a promotional model vaguely shaped like Star Trek’s Planer Killer.

  • sippin_bourbon

    It must transmit the words NOM NOM NOM for every safe capture.

  • pawn

    I think this thing will run out of fuel very quickly trying to chase orbital debris down or present itself as a target (huge risk). Is it really worth it in cost? I’m sure some mission simulations can be done on some of the objects worth removing. Some case studies would have to be done by anybody considering investment in this concept, you would think.

    Is there any formal hazard classification of a piece of space junk by orbital velocity, altitude, probability of known orbit crossing, anything like that?

    It’s probably enormously complicated and computationally complex to stalk say 10 objects with some kind of common orbital element in order to render some degree of efficiency/cost.

    I mean what are you going to do just launch it and wait for some target to present itself because that is not how it works up there.

  • Chris

    Is there any statistical data or surveys to determine the largest “bang for the buck, yen” (- or other currency now that the dollar is faltering as the Reserve Currency) in perspective orbit (altitude and latitude) as well as speed of the junk debris? Also, what satellites are the most valuable and vulnerable (out of, or low on maneuverability – fuel)?

    Finally, who is going to pay for this? Yes, you took space junk away from near my satellite. No, I’m not paying.

  • John

    Australia cares enough about space junk to spend $14 mil? Euros pay $100 mil per piece?

    Ditto on that thing needing a lot of fuel and maneuvering capability to collect things at speeds that don’t punch a hole in it. The article mentions that they’re hopeful to generate fuel from the metal they catch to fuel metal powered thrusters. OK.

    Also please name the thing “Jonah”. Thank you.

  • sippin_bourbon

    Project Hungry Hungry Hippo.

  • McBoatface

    They should auction the naming rights.

  • Mike Borgelt

    “Paladin is one of 29 startups that have divided up $14 million in development money provided by a program of the Australian government”

    This is the key statement. A nation of convict descendants sees a pile of free money and the bureaucrats are clueless but hand it out anyway.
    Want to make money in Australia? Form a company, apply for an R&D grant (there are people who write these for a cut which the add to the amount asked for), get grant, rent premises, buy some hardware, pay company directors and engineers (likely the same people) until money runs out, just before a viable product is done and fold company. Rinse, repeat.
    Seen it done plenty of times.

  • Star Bird

    A giant Space Vacuum Cleaner lets start on those Asteroids that get too close

  • pzatchok

    I still say a downward firing laser with a good radar targeting system would be better.

    Fire down on each piece as it passes under the laser and push it back down or slow it down so it drops down.
    A focused laser would be even safer. Six smaller lasers that converge on the target but if they miss they spread out again before hitting the atmosphere.

    Solar powered and not strong enough to fire all the way to the ground.

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