Mitigation efforts and space debris removal become essential targets for a safe space environment. This became clear to everyone especially for existing operational satellites that are required for space-based applications used in our daily life. People everywhere became aware of that when they considered satellites in Earth orbit that rare needed for weather forecasting, telecommunications, and global positioning systems (GPS). All such knowledge is dependent on continued health of satellites in Earth orbit and also for the case of future missions in space. Thus, the world’s space agencies are considering applicable solution to the collection of space debris.
NASA has funded programs to promote timely post-mission disposal of small spacecraft, as well as early stage studies of concepts for active debris removal. Therefore, NASA has developed the technology to demonstrate uncontrolled deorbiting of small spacecraft, such as CubeSats, using NASA’s Exo-Brake Parachute that increases the spacecraft’s drag on the braking device.
Although NASA has not developed an active debris removal system yet, the agency has been working on robotic refueling technologies that could provide additional fuel to extend missions and relocate or deorbit satellites (Paul K. Martin 2021). NASA has also developed a program to send the first 3-D printer to the space station in 2014. This printer used a fused filament fabrication (FFF) process, feeding a continuous thread of plastic through a heated extruder and onto a tray layer by layer to create a three-dimensional object. The 3-D printing in Zero G investigation produced dozens of parts, which researchers analyzed and compared with those made on the ground. Demonstrating that a 3-D printer works normally in space, this has paved the way to a new logistics system for long duration missions.
This project was designed to solve the problem of the lack of space in the ISS, which used to be the home of astronauts for more than nineteen years. Astronauts conduct scientific research using dozens of special facilities aboard the space station. The station also provides them with a place to eat, sleep, relax and exercise. To make all of this possible requires sending more than 7,000 pounds of spare parts to the station annually. Another 29,000 pounds of spaceflight hardware spares are stored aboard the station, and another 39,000 on the ground ready to fly if needed.
Thus, this article aims at utilizing recycled material for printer feedstock, in the Space Station which could save future long-duration exploration missions from having to carry a large supply of material for 3-D printing. Recycling also could make use of material that otherwise would represent a nuisance or a trash disposal issue on these missions.
In addition, the ISM project is working on developing higher-strength plastics and scaling processes that use metal to the size and power constraints of the Space Station. This is because most of the parts are need for on-demand manufacturing of spares - many are metal - on exploration missions, so that the program is studying the next big push in recycling metals using special 3-D printers (NASA 2019).
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) debris removal mission known as ClearSpace-1, is slated to launch in 2025 (Fig. 1). It consists of a four-armed robot that would latch onto debris and descend back to earth, where both machine and debris will burn up upon entry into the atmosphere. The initial mission will target a piece of large debris an upper stage left over from a 2013 launch. In November 2020, the ESA announced that mission and cited that the remainder of the mission’s cost would be raised through commercial investors (ESA 2019).
Moreover, JAXA has introduced a debris removal mission in Japan. This one is designed to launch in two phases, an “approach and observe” phase in 2022 to 2023 and a follow-up “observe, approach, capture, and retrieve” phase in 2026. The intent is to collect a discarded large upper stage of a Japanese rocket selected for removal by JAXA (Fig. 2).
In addition, JAXA is working on a project to demonstrate the first ever “debris prevention” device in 2021. This new appraoach involves an electromagnetic tether mounted on a miniaturized satellite prior to launch. Then, at the end of the mission, it would extend into space, interact with the earth’s magnetic field, and cause the satellite to slow. This results in the lowering of its orbit within a short period of time.This, in tern, results in burning of the satellite as it falls into Earth’s atmosfere. (JAXA 2020).