Tethers Unlimited says ‘Terminator Tape’ is speeding up a satellite’s descent as intended

Alan Boyle
An artist’s conception shows Tethers Unlimited’s Terminator Tape system deployed from a satellite in low Earth orbit. (Tethers Unlimited Illustration)

Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited says “Terminator Tape,” an experimental tether-based system designed to drag satellites down from orbit, is working the way it’s supposed to.

  • The notebook-sized Terminator Tape system has been placed on several nanosatellites for testing — including Georgia Tech’s Prox-1 satellite, which was sent into orbit last June on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Last September, the system’s 230-foot-long tether was strung out to add to the slight atmospheric drag experienced in low Earth orbit. “We can see from observations by the U.S. Space Surveillance Network that the satellite immediately began deorbiting over 24 times faster,” Tethers Unlimited CEO Rob Hoyt said in a news release.
  • That’s a good thing: Terminator Tape is meant to address the need to move retired satellites more quickly out of orbit, rather than having them add to the growing space-junk problem. “Instead of remaining in orbit for hundreds or thousands of years, the Prox-1 satellite will fall out of orbit and burn up in the upper atmosphere in under 10 years. … This successful test proves that this lightweight and low-cost technology is an effective means for satellite programs to meet orbital debris mitigation requirements,” Hoyt said.
  • Tethers Unlimited is currently collaborating with Millennium Space Systems, TriSept and Rocket Lab on a test mission known as DragRacer, due for launch this year. The mission will compare the deorbit rates for two identical satellites, one with Terminator Tape and one without, to characterize the system’s performance more precisely. Hoyt told Space News that in the years ahead, the system could be attached to defunct satellites in orbit using Tethers Unlimited’s planned LEO Knight servicing robot.

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