A “dragging sail” concept designed to help pull space junk out of orbit just got a cash injection.
The Spinnaker concept to deorbit the little ones satellites received $375,000 in seed funding from investment firm Manhattan West, which Nasa will correspond under its Small Business Innovative Research Phase II-Extended (SBIR Phase II-E) contract.
The combined $750,000 financing will pivot Vestigo Aerospace’s product line into commercial manufacturing, the company said in a statement. Exit from Purdue University (opens in a new tab)with first sales expected in 2023. (Technology is licensed from Purdue.)
The money follows extensive discussions within the U.S. space community about space debris in recent weeks, including a new commitment to address the growing problem by the Federal Communications Commission and via Biden administration policy. .
Related: Space debris removal does not go smoothly
“The Spinnaker line of drag sails addresses the growing need for reliable end-of-mission deorbit capability…to maintain low Earth orbit durability,” said David Spencer, Founder and CEO of Vestigo, in the release. . “Bolt-on dragsails represent a ‘preventative’ approach to the problem of orbital debris that, if left unchecked, could halt the growth of the orbital economy.”
While the technology is in its infancy, Vestigo sought to test its Spinnaker3 concept in orbit. However, this prototype was destroyed during the first test flight of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket, which ended in an explosion shortly after liftoff in September 2021.
Once operational, the drag sail should be available to deploy on satellites, whether functional or not, Vestigo said. “Drag sails can be deployed on command or via a backup timer, providing reliable deorbit capability even if the host vehicle is inoperative,” the statement read.
Spinnaker isn’t the only drag sail out there. The first spacecraft to demonstrate similar active space debris removal technologies deployed from the International Space Station in 2018, and China tested its own drag sail in 2022.