UK startup to improve our capacity for detecting tiny pieces of space debris

Its sensors are designed to detect pieces of space shrapnel as small as one-tenth of a millimeter, traveling at the speed of a bullet.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of an Odin Space sensor on a CubeSat.
An artist's impression of an Odin Space sensor on a CubeSat.

Odin Space 

UK Startup Odin Space is preparing to detect tiny pieces of space debris using a sensor attached to a space tug that was recently lifted to orbit aboard SpaceX's rideshare mission, Transporter-8.

The company announced on June 27 that it has successfully powered up its demo sensor, which is attached to D-Orbit's ION orbital transfer vehicle, according to a report from SpaceNews.

Its goal is to massively expand the ability to detect potentially dangerous pieces of space debris, which are a growing concern for the space industry and the astronomical community.

Odin Space's sub-centimeter debris sensor

Odin Space's sensor is capable of detecting nearby space debris as small as one-tenth of a millimeter. Such small pieces of debris are too small to track with existing technologies.

It's important to build detection capabilities, though, because these pieces of orbital shrapnel travel around Earth at the speed of a bullet, meaning they have the potential to cause serious damage to satellites, space stations, and orbital spacecraft.

For its technology demonstration, Odin Space will look to record and analyze the size, speed and trajectory of these small pieces of space debris by detecting the vibrations they generate.

Ultimately, the company's goal is to launch hundred of its sensors aboard third-party satellites in order to build a dynamic, high-resolution map of the sub-centimeter debris environment around Earth.

Tackling the growing space debris problem

Odin Space's demo sensor is designed to operate for approximately two months of D-Orbit's roughly two-year mission.

The private space company is currently developing new sensors that will be compatible with a wider range of satellites and will also have an upgraded sensor capacity.

Its plan is to start launching those next-generation satellites next year, at a rate of 10 sensors per year on both low Earth orbit (LEO) and geostationary orbit satellites.

The company recently earned over $500,000 in pre-seed funding as well as grants from the UK space agency and it's looking for more investment.

The space debris problem will only continue to grow as more and more machinery is sent to space. Last year, for example, University of Regina astronomer Dr. Samantha Lawler told IE in an interview that SpaceX's Starlink constellation has us "right on the edge" of Kessler Syndrome and that this could drastically affect astronomical operations as it would make it look like we are "inside a snow globe within a couple of hours of sunrise or sunset."

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