Tethers Unlimited Announces Successful Operation of Space-Debris Removal Device

The Terminator Tape Deorbit Module interacts with the space environment to rapidly drag a satellite out of orbit. (Credit: Tethers Unlimited)

BOTHELL, Wa. (Tethers Unlimited PR) – Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) announced that it has successfully demonstrated on-orbit operation of the Terminator Tape, an affordable, lightweight solution for removing space debris from on orbit.

In early September 2019, an automated timer unit on the Prox-1 satellite, launched in late June 2019 by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s University Nanosatellite Program, activated deployment of TUI’s Terminator Tape module. The Terminator Tape is a small module, weighing less than two pounds and about the size of a notebook, designed to attach to the exterior of a satellite.

When the satellite has completed its mission and is ready to be disposed of, an elecrical signal from either the satellite or an independent timer unit activates the Terminator Tape, causing it to deploy a 230-foot long conductive tape from the satellite. This tape interacts with the space environment to create a drag force on the satellite that lowers its orbit far more rapidly than it would if it were simply abandoned in orbit.

“Three months after launch, as planned, our timer unit commanded the Terminator Tape to deploy, and we can see from observations by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network that the satellite immediately began de-orbiting over twenty-four times faster,” said Dr. Rob Hoyt, TUI’s CEO. “So, instead of remaining in orbit for hundreds of years. Rapidly removing dead satellites in this manner will help to combat the growing space debris problem. This successful test proves that this lightweight and low-cost technology is an effective means for satellite programs to meet orbital debris mitigation requirements.” 

TUI is currently collaborating  with Millennium Space Systems, TriSept, and RocketLab to prepare a scientific method-based low-Earth orbit flight experiment called “DRAGRACER”, which will compare deorbit of two identical satellites, one with and one without a Terminator Tape, in order to enable robust characterization of the tape’s performance.