A senior nanotechnology scientist at The Aerospace Corp. in El Segundo won a second round of NASA funding to build his new space-junk removal concept, officials announced Monday.
Dr. Siegfried Janson secured $500,000 to construct his Brane Craft — so named for the membrane-like sheet that makes up most of its ethereal body.
He developed the plans for the spacecraft last year with a $100,000 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts grant.
Now, he’ll actually make the flying-carpet-like machine.
The Brane Craft is slightly smaller than a flag and is nearly two-dimensional — it’s mostly a flat membrane that’s thinner than a strand of human hair.
The solar-powered membrane is fitted with propellers to move it through orbit.
Contractions, made with electroactive polymers, will allow Brane Craft to wrap itself around small pieces of orbiting trash and pull them into the atmosphere to burn up.
The Aerospace Corp. described it as an “extremely thin spacecraft that would serve as a large piece of high-tech plastic that would wrap around debris and remove it from the Earth’s orbit.”
Tens of millions of pieces of trash left behind in orbit from human space exploration threaten the integrity of satellites and other space missions. The fast speed of orbit packs a huge punch, and something as small as an earplug can hit like a bullet
Scientists around the world are seeking ways to grab space junk and drag it back into the atmosphere.
In February, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency carried a long whip-like mesh tether into space, developed with the help of a fishing net maker. It was designed to grab large junk and pull it out of orbit, but it failed.
English researchers leading RemoveDEBRIS are using harpoons, nets and “dragsails” to grab and pull trash out of orbit.
The increasing number of small satellites in orbit helped propel Janson’s idea. He develops CubeSats, which are tiny satellites about the size of tissue boxes or a large Rubik’s Cube.
The satellites can be cheaply placed into orbit by the dozen, and used for a wide spectrum of monitoring and research.
“It’s great news that Dr. Janson’s Brane Craft proposal has been selected to receive NASA’s Phase II award,” said Steve Isakowitz, Aerospace president and CEO. “Innovation is embedded in the DNA of our employees. I’m thrilled that our company will play a major role in revolutionizing and shaping the future of small satellites and addressing the challenges of Space Situational Awareness.”
The funding is provided to “explore visionary aerospace concepts that we appraise and potentially fold into our early stage technology portfolio,” said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Similar innovation grants were awarded to nearly two dozen others, including scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
JPL’s financed second-stage projects include a rover that can move around the extreme environments of Jupiter and Mercury, and a probe that can withstand the hostile conditions on Venus.