Meeting the Space ANGELS (Space Law)

On the second of May I had the pleasure of meeting Special Council Duncan Blake (from the International Aerospace Law & Policy Group), and five of his students – the ANGELS – from the University of Adelaide, to have a discussion about Exodus Space Systems and the legal considerations we expect to face in the future.  It was a really productive conversation, where the aim was to help them understand what a start-up founder like myself might want to see in the website they are building, and it was also one I was especially glad to have it at this stage in our company’s development, as I was able to run a couple of our hypotheses by the group and talk about the legal implications.

A significant feature of any future space debris removal industry will be how various actors respond to the issues raised by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. A good summary of the treaty as it relates to space debris can be found here, but I think we can all agree that the treaty requires space-faring countries – as well as any commercial space entities located within the jurisdiction of those countries – to avoid “harmful contamination” of the space environment.  Because harmful contamination in the form of space debris already exists, processes like active debris removal (ADR) are likely to become a key feature of the emerging space industry, in some way, shape or form.

The question is: who is going to pay for it?

This is where our hypotheses come in.  The first hypothesis is that we think there are basically two different categories of ADR services that satellite customers will want to see from space debris removal companies such as ourselves, which we’re calling 1) Ad Hoc and 2) General services.

Ad Hoc services are those services to be performed in cases of specific need, as when a satellite is no longer controllable and needs to be de-orbited, or worse, when a collision has occurred and the resulting debris poses an imminent threat to other assets in space. We think these will form an important part of the early stages of the space debris removal industry, and will continue as long as there are large multi-ton used rocket stages and defunct satellites in orbit that require dedicated missions to remove.  Going forward however, it is hard to see how the majority of ADR services performed will consist of customers paying companies to deorbit individual pieces of debris, any more than a city council would contract a company to sweep up a single piece of litter on the street.

General services will necessarily have to become the majority of services performed in the future: there are hundreds of thousands of pieces of debris over 1cm in size, and the companies with technology that can cost-effectively clean whole orbital regions of hazardous debris will inevitably come to dominate.  Because payload mass is so expensive to transport into orbit, cost-effectiveness means mass-effectiveness, and we think our flyby mission profile – which saves on both propellent mass and the mass required for grappling/de-tumbling/de-orbiting space debris – will turn out to be a method that can effect both the Ad Hoc and General Services.

So again: Who is going to pay for these services?  If the only possible service allowed by technology was of the Ad Hoc type, the only incentive to clean up would come from the liability the owner of that out-of-control satellite (or user of that anti-satellite weapon) might face in the international arena.  My knowledge of international law is limited, but it doesn’t yet seem that any such punishment is in the works for previous occasions in which debris has been created, so it’s hard to see when in the future such a “stick” might eventuate.  If however there were a technology that cost-effectively reduced the risk of collision with space debris over a whole orbital altitude, then the incentive to act would become more carrot than stick, with operators of satellite constellations becoming potential customers able to reap the benefits of that reduced risk, multiplied by as many satellites as they have in that orbital altitude.

What if the operator of that satellite constellation were a nation state party to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, or an organisation within the jurisdiction of such a nation state? Our second hypothesis is that – rather than needing to modify the 1967 treaty or create a new one – countries could be incentivised to help subsidise the process of removing space debris through the creation of a list of “good citizen” countries acting to solve the space debris problem.  This could be measured in comparison to the number of satellites that country already has in orbit, as this would be a surrogate for how big a part those countries played in generating the debris which is already in orbit.

In any case, the conversation with the Space ANGELS was very interesting food for thought, and I wish them the best for their course!

An update on Space Debris

Imagine, for a moment, what an incomprehensible event it would be if you were walking down your street, minding your own business, and you were randomly struck by a bullet fired during World War II, half a world away and many decades ago.  Somehow, that bullet has been flying around all this time until it just happened to find you.  What would you do?  Maybe the person who fired it has since died of old age.  Maybe the country they fought for no longer exists.  On whom does the responsibility fall?  Not that it makes much difference to you in the moment, does it?  Ouch!

Fun with hypotheticals aside, we know such a thing couldn’t happen on Earth because of gravity and atmospheric drag.  Space debris is different.  Something very much like this can happen in space because the vast speed at which orbiting objects travel is sufficient to beat gravity, and the length of time these objects can stay in space is due to the lack of atmospheric drag.  The space debris problem will persist for decades to come, and the questions of responsibility are much the same.

The statistics on space debris are worrisome.  According to the recently updated ESA space debris by the numbers page, there are now an estimated 34,000 pieces of space debris larger than 10cm in orbit around Earth (these are the ones that can be tracked), with another 900,000 objects big enough (>1cm) to do catastrophic damage to any spacecraft with which they happen to run cross paths.

Most of these are in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), since that’s where the majority of humankind’s activity in space has been.  Of course, if you look at the absolute density of debris, the numbers might seem very low.  The roughly 8400 tons of artificial objects in space are spread out over an area larger than the size of Earth’s surface, and even a back of the envelope calculation will tell you this works out to about 14 grams per square kilometre.  Then consider that this is spread over a volume hundreds of kilometres in altitude, and you realise the standard graphic of space debris showing the space around Earth thick with particles is merely an artistic representation.

The nature of the problem becomes more clear when you contemplate the phrase “hypervelocity impact”, and see images like this solid block of aluminium after impact by a small (~1cm) metal projectile travelling at approximately 8km/s:

Shield development within the HVIT group
Several innovative shielding approaches are being developed at NASA and elsewhere in an attempt to protect human-rated spacecraft from the millions of debris objects of this size, but clearly, prevention is better than a cure.  The problem won’t go away until we make it go away.

If anything, the problem will get worse before it gets better: Another 10,000 or so satellites are planned to be launched in the next decade, many of which will be in the orbits where debris populations are highest.  This is in addition to the 1800 or so currently functional satellites.  The odds of further random collisions between satellites and debris (or indeed between debris and other debris objects) creating further clouds of space debris, is not insignificant, and it’s because of this fact that a sizeable space debris clean-up industry is currently in the gestational stages.  We now expect this industry to be in the billion $/year range by 2030, given that the total space industry is projected to reach a trillion-plus $/year at or soon after this date.

Exodus Space Systems intends to be a leader in the space debris clean-up industry, and we think Western Australia’s growing prowess for space situational awareness (SSA) makes it an ideal location from which to operate.  We’ve been hard at work developing a novel technology which will cost-effectively solve this problem, a complete financial model showing who will pay for it and why, as well as a pack for investors describing all the details.

Here’s to some exciting meetings in the next few weeks!

To Germany and back…

Hi all! Wow what a huge couple of months it’s been.  It’s hard to know where to start.

When I last wrote, we were preparing for two conferences, ASAM’s (Australasian Society for Aerospace Medicine) focus colloquium on space medicine in Melbourne, and the International Astronautical Congress 2018 in Bremen, Germany.  Between these two events we’ve met a huge number of space professionals from both Australia and abroad, scientists and engineers from industry and various space agencies, all working towards driving the new space revolution forward.

We’re still in the process of contacting all the inspiring people we’ve met, so if you’ve not heard from us yet, please feel free to contact us, so we can continue the conversation.

We’ve also continued to work on promoting our DeTA (Deployable Toroid Array) space origami concept, both the hardware, and the business case(s) for what we can do with it:

Interested investors should contact us for a pitch package.  But remember, if you want to support us as a fan, you can always buy one of our 3D printed rotary DeTA models from our shop at shapeways.com/shops/exodus-space-systems

Onwards and upwards!

An investment opportunity with a long term vision

We at Exodus have been hard at work creating the pitch materials that investors (rightly) want to see before backing a venture such as ours.  That means laying out a roadmap for Exodus over the next five years, including both the milestones we expect to meet, and the costs we’ll have to cover, as we travel down the path towards becoming a leader in the space debris clean-up industry.

This has been a rewarding task, because it means we can start to make some better educated guesses about how big this industry will be, which may surprise some.  With another 5000+ satellites expected to be delivered into Low Earth Orbit in the next ten years, in addition to a satellite services industry currently worth in excess of $100 billion/year, we predict a $100+ million/year clean-up industry by 2028, with satellite makers and insurers being the primary customers.

Interested investors should contact us for more information.

We’re also preparing for a couple of upcoming space conferences, the Australian Society for Aerospace Medicine’s: Focus colloquium on Space Life Sciences in Melbourne this Friday, and of course, the 2018 International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany.  We have also recently participated in consultation sessions for the rapidly developing Australian Space Agency: I have to say it’s been so encouraging to see how quickly the agency is coming together, as well as the enthusiasm and professionalism of its staff.

Lastly, while there’s a number of opportunities in the works that we can’t talk about yet, I do think it’s important to emphasise that yes, we are aiming to be a leader in the space debris clean-up industry, but that’s not all.  Long term, we want to help enable the exodus of humanity to space in large numbers.  Instead of “where next?” we ask “how many?” because the technologies that maximise the answer to that question are what will enable humanity to take that next step and finally start the settlement of space.

What does that look like? I’ve made a small update to my novel preview for “The Hub, the Rock, and the Ring” because I believe a story can paint a picture far more vivid than any trade study ever did.  Caution: contains some adult language.

New DeTA Video

Hi all,

We’ve now uploaded a video presentation to our YouTube channel, showing the Exodus vision for our new patent-pending invention; the Deployable Toroidal Array, and how it enables applications such as our SDEDI (Space Debris Elimination by Dry Ice) method.

DeTA is now patent pending

Our DeTA (Deployable Toroidal Array) invention has now been lodged with the Australian Patent Office as a provisional patent, which means we can finally talk about the invention, and explain how we’ll be using it to address the twin challenges of spin gravity research and space debris.

First of all, here’s a look at the simplified, 3D printed DeTA model we’re selling on our Shapeways page:

DeTA4shot.png

It’s a very cool desk toy as well as an excellent demonstration of the capabilities of SLS 3D printing, with its 62 individual, interlinked parts that come out of the 3D printer in one print, no assembly required.  It also elegantly demonstrates one of the possible mechanisms we can use to move the DeTA between stowed and deployed states.  Right now the best way that you can help us move forward is by buying one of these at our shapeways page here.

The patent itself contains more detail, and the drawings below are of a 3D model which is much closer to what we are actually in the process of building.  I’ll explain in more detail later, but you’ll notice the stowed state is designed to fit snugly into the curved conical nose cone of a rocket payload bay, while the deployed state has a large relative spin radius, mechanisms needed to control orientation and spin rate, and tubular spokes which will be critical to our plan to deorbit space debris using pellets of dry ice.

DeTApatent1-3.png
Much more to come, so stay tuned!