Space force

US Space Force’s ‘Orbital Prime’ project aims to attack space junk by recycling or disposing of waste

A new video from the US Space Force “demands action” on space debris and asks the private sector for help in cleaning up the growing space mess.

The video was posted Jan. 5 on the Space Force’s SpaceWERX website (its technology arm) to kick off a program called Orbital Prime, which aims to test a system in orbit within two to four years. The first solicitation is due February 17.

Space debris, Vice Chief of Space Operations Lt. Gen. David Thompson said in the video, “demands action and provides an opportunity to partner in finding innovative solutions to recycle, reuse or dispose of these objects.”

The Space Force partnership request came weeks after a Russian anti-satellite test in November produced so much debris that the risk of strikes against the International Space Station increased measurably, according to NASA .

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This SpaceWerx diagram outlines the goals of servicing, assembling, and manufacturing spacecraft in orbit for space sustainability. (Image credit: SpaceWerx/US Space Force)

Crew at the orbiting complex were forced to take shelter in their return craft in November, while ground control takes steps to assess or dodge debris in consultation with the Department of Defense, which tracks space trash .

Space Force hopes to address broader space junk issues in low Earth orbit by testing in-orbit debris disposal technologies. Phase 1 prizes are valued at $250,000 and Phase 2 prizes at $1.5 million.

“Our vision in this partnership is to aggressively explore these capabilities today, in hopes that we and others can purchase them as a service in the future,” Thompson said in the video.

Lt. Gen. David Thompson, Space Force vice chief of space operations, testifying before a former congressional committee. (Image credit: SASC)

While there are well over 20,000 pieces of trackable space junk, what also concerns the Space Force is the number of smaller objects (such as screws or paint stains) that could not be tracked.

Industry representatives have more generally pointed to the rise of large-scale satellite constellations as another potential threat to space debris mitigation, as SpaceX’s Starlink constellation alone has produced several near misses in recent months. .

“Our goal through Orbital Prime,” said Thompson, “is to partner with innovative minds in industry, universities, and research institutes to advance and apply cutting-edge technology and operating concepts in areas of debris mitigation and removal.”

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