As 2020 comes to a close, I’m sure many will be happy to see it go, but for us at Exodus it has been a year of solid progress, capped off with the honour of being named a Core Exchange “Hot 30 company to watch” in 2021. It’s been phenomenal to have recognition from supporters both in Australia and abroad, and we’re excited to see how we can improve on it next year.
Our key focus this year was making sure we’re not just promoting “a solution in search of a problem”. Instead, we need to make sure we have a strong case to convince ourselves (and everyone else) that a space debris cleanup service can pay for itself as a business, not just be a research project. Our optimism that we’re on the right track is based on three factors:
- Space debris cleanup will eventually be an essential service required by all space operators. The new space industry is going through a period of rapid growth, and is projected to exceed $1 Trillion US dollars annually before 2040. There is a gold rush atmosphere at the moment: hundreds of new companies are being founded to capitalise on increasing global demand for space services. These services are possible because of advances in miniaturisation, as well as cheaper and more reusable launch vehicles.
We consider our position to be similar to that of Levi Strauss, who sold denim jeans to gold miners in the 18th century, because space debris cleanup will provide value to all space operators, and our aim is to be the premier provider of space debris cleanup services. One estimate already places space debris cleanup at 1% of the total space industry, indicating a $6 Billion US dollar space debris cleanup industry by 2029.
- Exodus Space Systems’ Kinetic Solution for Space Debris (KiSSD) can outcompete other Active Debris Removal (ADR) services. The KiSSD method requires an effector craft to perform a flyby maneuver, placing a column of low density solids in the path of the targeted debris, impacting it at a speed fast enough to transfer kinetic energy, but slow enough to not fragment it. This slows the target down in a manner akin to a truck arrester bed. The debris then falls back into Earth’s atmosphere, where it burns up like a meteor. Doing this gives us three key advantages over other ADR methods: Cost-effectiveness, Scalability and Safety.
a) Cost-effectiveness will be measured by the ratio between mass of payload launched, versus mass of space debris removed. Because KiSSD flyby maneuver saves propellant and robotics mass through not having to rendezvous with or physically capture the target, Exodus’ cost of service will remain lower than its competitors and more cost-effective for the vast majority of smaller debris objects in low Earth orbit, even as the prices of launch services decrease.
b) Scalability will be measured by the incremental cost of performing additional debris target removals in a multi-target mission. In the KiSSD method, the low density solid particles are generated from a simple fluid consumable, meaning that the particles are “dumb” and no space grade robotics/electronics is lost with each target. Also, the orbit of the effector spacecraft is such that removing additional debris targets within a given orbital cluster will use significantly less propellant. This creates a compounding effect where a multi-target KiSSD mission can be significantly cheaper than the equivalent ADR mission run using a competing technology.
c) Safety will be measured (among other things) by the timeframes involved. Because KiSSD is designed to require only a single pass for most small targets, the method will be preferred when the debris target is posing a hazard in a congested orbit, such as could be the case with so-called “mega-constellations” of satellites currently being planned and launched. Once the target has been “KiSSD”, we expect that even targets in orbits at altitudes of 600km-1200km (the main bulk of space debris in low Earth orbit), will be deorbited in timeframes of less than 3 months, greatly reducing the risk posed to satellites and crewed space stations below.
- The KiSSD method enables a new business model in response to the question of “who pays?” Whilst this question is often asked rhetorically, we argue there is now evidence of willingness to pay to solve this problem (see the comments by Iridium CEO Matt Desch, the Series E funds raised by Astroscale, or the European Space Agency’s contract with ClearSpace). What has been missing is a commercial business model which will incentivise key stakeholders to participate in arrangements to fund such commercial missions, and this is what we think the cost-effectiveness, scalability, and safety aspects of the KiSSD method will enable Exodus to achieve.
The four key stakeholders who stand to benefit from space debris removal are 1) spacecraft operators, be they satellites or crewed space vehicles, 2) entities with ownership of, and liability for damage caused by existing space debris (most likely also spacecraft operators themselves), 3) satellite insurance providers, who face a significant disincentive to raise premiums further to account for space debris collision risk (or the operational costs of expected excess conjunction avoidance), and 4) government space agencies and/or defence agencies, who through treaty or security imperatives have sought to encourage action to address the problem.
Each of these stakeholders derive different value from the removal of space debris, and as with any problem like space debris, it is important to incentivise all of these stakeholders in order to achieve success. Our development of the KiSSD method – with its unique advantages as listed above – give us insight on how best to provide maximum possible value to each of these stakeholders in our planned multi-target debris removal missions, and we look forward to working with all of these stakeholder organisations in the coming years.
Along with our Core Exchange “Hot 30” award, we’ve received letters of support from a number of Australian organisations which we hope to talk more about in the new year. We’ve submitted a grant application to the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars Demonstrator Feasibility program, and we look forward to hearing the results of that in coming months. Pictured above: Mike speaks at the (socially distanced) “Flying Things” summit hosted by Innovation Australia. It was an honour to be invited to speak along with some of Perth’s great innovators in aviation.
Lastly, I must mention our Youtube/Patreon crowd funding campaign, where our Starship Design Speculation videos have now been watched over 300,000 times! We have a small group of individuals funding Exodus to produce more videos, and these are in progress. The next video will be speculation on how a point-to-point transportation system may actually work with SpaceX’s reusable Starship technology. It’s such an exciting venture to think about, not just because of its potential to help drive the various Moon and Mars programs in progress, but also what it will do to expand the human use of low Earth orbit, and the technologies that will benefit all of humankind.
Here’s wishing you and yours have a happy and safe holiday season, and a chance to reach for something greater in 2021. Happy New Year!