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Launch HN: Turion Space (YC S21) – Space debris removal and satellite servicing
200 points by rwesterdahl on Aug 4, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 111 comments
Hi HN, we're Ryan, Tyler, and Patryk, the founders of Turion Space (https://www.turionspace.com/). We're building spacecraft to remove orbital debris and provide services to existing satellites.

Orbital debris poses a significant risk to mankind's future in space. There are currently over 250k objects in space that would destroy a satellite if a collision were to occur. Large uncontrolled objects like depleted rocket upper stages and dead satellites pose the greatest risk because of the potential to break upon impact with small debris into thousands of smaller pieces. There is currently no system in operation that can deorbit large amounts of space debris. If this problem is not addressed in the next 5-10 years, it could render entire orbits unusable for generations.

Our spacecraft (which we’ve decided to call the “Droid”, shoutout to Star Wars!) aims to remove debris by docking with it using robotic arms and dragging the debris to a lower orbit using the ion propulsion system we are developing under a NASA technology transfer license. Once the debris is in a low enough orbit, upper atmospheric drag will cause the debris to naturally decay in altitude until it burns up during atmospheric reentry. Critically, the Droid would undock with the debris after dragging it to a low orbit, then orbit-raise, and go on to perform other missions. In other words, our solution is a reusable approach, designed from the beginning to complete multiple missions during its lifetime.

Our team encountered this problem when brainstorming ideas to answer the question, "with the rapidly declining cost of getting things into space, what can we do now that has never before been possible?" Asteroid mining seemed like the obvious answer, but the capital required to start a business on that premise seemed like a longshot to say the least. We found the most important problem we could solve while building the foundation to asteroid resource extraction was to create a satellite system capable of removing orbital space debris.

Our team has extensive experience working on operational space flight hardware and building software products from the ground up. Ryan comes from an 8.5-year run at SpaceX, working primarily on propulsion development and dynamics analysis of the Merlin, Superdraco, and Raptor engines. Tyler comes most recently to ATA engineering, working as a consultant for various aspects of thermal, structural, and dynamics analysis across a wide range of now-operational space-flight projects. He also worked at Electroimpact, where he designed and built aerospace-assembly-automation systems using robotic arms. Patryk comes most recently from Marshall Reddick real estate where he developed the company’s in house CRM that was vital to the company's growth over the last 5 years.

We expect to begin servicing sometime in 2024. We have gained interest in several use cases through conversations with customers to complement our orbital debris removal efforts, beginning with low-earth-orbit operations. For low-earth-orbit satellite operators, we can raise their altitude or modify the inclination of their orbit. We have also partnered with launch providers to expand their mission capabilities by offering our last mile tug service for their payloads. For example, suppose a small launcher can only lift a 200 kg satellite into a 500km orbit altitude, but that payload wishes to end up at a 1200km altitude. In that case, we can dock with the payload once it has been deployed from the launch vehicle and bring it to its final orbit.

Check out the services section of our website at https://turionspace.com/satellite-tracker and track satellites or get pricing estimates for different mission scenarios! We'd love to hear feedback and chat about orbital debris removal!

Congrats on your launch!

Back in 2015, I was part of an EU Marie Curie ITN network called Stardust [1] working on something similar.

We utilized robotic arms and a novel non-contact, detumbling technology (using eddy currents) to approach and remove Ariane rocket bodies [2].

It was a fascinating project and I subsequently worked on investigating mission analysis approaches to compute multi-target rendezvous sequences, specifically assessing the impact of orbital perturbations on the use of semi-analytical transfer leg design algorithms [3].

You might be interested in the follow-up to the Stardust network, dubbed Stardust-R [4]. Happy to connect you with any of the organizations involved if it's helpful.

It was the frustration of trying to manually deal with collecting information for component, subsystem, and system trade studies that led to me wondering if an 'amazon for space' [5] wouldn't help engineers focus on the really hard engineering instead of Googling :) [shameless plug]

Would love to learn more about your Droid platform if you're interested in chatting!

[1] https://www.stardust2013.eu

[2] https://www.dfki.de/web/forschung/projekte-publikationen/pub...

[3] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S02731...

[4] http://www.stardust-network.eu

[5] https://satsearch.com

> the Droid would undock with the debris after dragging it to a low orbit, then orbit-raise, and go on to perform other missions

I'm not orbital mechanic or anything, but my experience with Kerbal Space Program taught me that orbits are really hard to change and match. How many worthwhile pieces of debris are in similar enough orbits that a spacecraft with limited fuel can even reach both of them?

ie: if Droid is at a 55 degree inclined orbit, I can't imagine it could ever reach another object that was at, say, a polar orbit or an equatorial orbit?

Our current design is capable of just over 1 year of continuous propulsive operation. Feel free to mess with our services tool on the website to simulate various missions to see how many operations a single droid could perform! But to answer your question, yes, several orbital inclinations are highly populated with operational satellites and debris. A mission such as going from 55° inclination to polar would be possible but very expensive (ie would likely drain a significant amount of life out of the Droid on a single mission). This is why we want to build a constellation of vehicles spread across many inclinations.

> Our current design is capable of just over 1 year of continuous propulsive operation.

> (...) would likely drain a significant amount of life out of the Droid on a single mission

These two sentences are contradictory.

Unless by "continuous propulsive operation" you mean something that is, confusingly, not continuous propulsive operation.

They are not contradictory you've just removed the context explaining why they wouldn't put said inefficient thing in a mission plan. There are plenty of objects to clean up without having to shift your orbital inclination so drastically.

Unless it's using a low-thrust-high-efficiency drive such that significant inclination changes take a year.

Unless of course the maneuver takes a significant part of a year

One thing I can think of is debris from satellites that explode, which tends to stay in the same inclination. This happens from time to time even in deactivated satellites due to Hydrazine and other unstable propellants.

If you can calculate dV requirements between any two given objects you can treat the orbital maneuvers required as a directed graph.

Then you can apply an adapted travelling salesman algorithm or similar graph optimisation algorithms to choose rendezvous sequences for maximum impact.

There is currently no system in operation that can deorbit large amounts of space debris.

If there's some debris in space, who pays to clean it up? Is it a company that wants to use an orbit that might be affected? Or is debris attributable and the 'owner' pays to clean up their own mess? Or is there a fund that a consortium of governments and businesses that use space should (will?) pay into?

I can imagine that the tech to do clean up is eminently achievable, and getting something to orbit to actually do the job is likely to be cheap enough soon, but I can't quite imagine why anyone would actually be a customer of a space cleaning company.

I think the smart move is to put a regulatory requirement to either fund removal via a satellite tax, prepayment, or require a 1-up-1-down trade. Selling a satellite cleanup credit like companies do with carbon or EV credits could work.

The problem is space doesn’t belong to anyone in particular. Who’s going to enforce it? I suppose the UN could, but, unfortunately, it’s completely powerless.

Good point. It's a lot like international waters at this point but there is a very interesting aspect regarding this. Currently the FCC is the primary governing body in the space realm and requires all international satellites to abide by their rules in order to access the US telecommunications market. This translated to ~90% of all satellites following their rules due to monetary incentives.

"Join in, or the debris we take down might be your satellite."

There are actually binding, UN treaties actually on outer space, one specifically on outer space debris.

The liability for any debris that hits something else in space, or hits something on Earth, lies with the launching nation of said debris. This has already occurred and been resolved once, when a USSR spy satellite hit northern Canada. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosmos_954

I imagine if an incident were to occur and the launching nation didn’t compensate the UN security council could ultimately enforce some kind of punishment. If one of the permanent five refused, since all five are satellite launching nations, or closely tied (UK) to a satellite launching nation, there will be immense pressure to settle up.

>The problem is space doesn’t belong to anyone in particular. Who’s going to enforce it? I suppose the UN could, but, unfortunately, it’s completely powerless.

Countries can just tax them at launch time based on the payload

The UN is also mostly rather useless...

One model is that certain orbits do become owned by some major power or private company.

When you own certain orbits, it's your responsibility to keep them clean.

Right now NO ONE. Crazy right? Well not really. If you forced people (satellite owners) to pay for someone to deorbit their stuff, before an affordable service exists, that'd be a quick way to put a major damper on the booming space economy. It is crucial to develop the technology quickly, and do so with a system that is affordable. Only after this will regulators be willing to move towards enforcing more strict policies for deorbiting your satellite if it dies. Until then, anyone need an orbit modification? :)

As I understand it, the majority of junk is 1. 480 million copper pins the US military put into orbit[0] and 2. 150k pieces of junk from the Chinese anti-satellite weapon test/demonstration[1].

So if we're going to charge someone for this, first and foremost are the US and Chinese militaries.

Who's going to make them pay up?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_West_Ford [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_anti-satellite_mi...

Thanks for linking to the interesting story, but it doesn’t agree with your comment. Wikipedia says there are only 36 clumps of needles left in orbit.

*36 known clumps

Individual needles are probably too small for radar to track, but not too small to punch a hole in your vessel.

Fortunately some have re-entered.

Good catch. I didn't fully reread it before posting. I was also unsure if the individual needles were still around, but the article says they'd have decayed after ~3 years, so it's just those few clumps that are relevant.

that is cool "artificial ionosphere"

As terrible and backward as this sounds, I wonder if who wants to take the spot next needs to clean up after the first person. Given the limited number of available slots for certain orbits like geosync, it might make sense to send something else up to push the previous satellite out to the dead orbit (if it failed to get there itself). In this way you're kind of more buying the "land" and have to demolish the previous house.

Geosync satellites don't really contribute directly to the main debris problem; they are too far out and there are too few of them and when they end their service life they (usually) have enough fuel left to push themselves further out to make room for the next satellite.

The big debris problem is much closer to the earth in the cloud of crap between LEO and MEO.

The owner of a satellite under threat from some specific debris would have a strong incentive to pay. I'm surprised if the data is good enough to detect this, but otherwise its hard to imagine the business model. Love to hear more from the founders


Good points we have been thinking about ourselves for a long time. The business model for orbital debris removal doesn't really exist at this point. We are starting with a solution that can provide satellite services and using that to create a foundation for a economic removal of large space-debris objects. Once the solution is available with data demonstrating costs - government bodies will likely come on board.

Ryan and team, fellow space & space debris nerd here in OC as it seems like you're all based in SoCal. Would love to connect offline and share some (somewhat dated) research I've done in the space and see how I can help you all out. My email is in my profile.

Some initial questions I had:

-How are you dealing with fragmentation that is natural once incidental contact is made with space debris?

-What types of space debris are you targeting based on original designs, what can be potentially salvaged, etc.?

-What federal and international agencies have you had to deal with for permission, funding, and just general education to ensure your ideas get off the ground?

-What is the timeline between now and tomorrow where a clean sky is no longer possible to ensure this problem gets addressed sooner than later?

Very excited to see your progress with this vision!

Hello! We would love to chat with you offline, you can message us your contact information through our website with your email or email us at info@turionspace.com.

I'll try to answer these:

-Fragmentation I'm assuming you are referring to the debris clouds of small objects after a conjunction. This is a very hard problem. We are starting with removal of large-uncontrolled objects before they collide. The solution to removing those small pieces of debris might be something very different such as insertion of clouds of inert gas or giant balloon type sweeps.

-Initial design is based on orbit modification of operational satellites then moving to defunct satellites or spent upper stages. Salvaged material could hopefully be entire satellites in the future. We have some friends at Inversion space working on re-entry vessels. The possibility of space-based recycling centers is also exciting.

-We have talked with Space Force, US department of Space Commerce, NASA, consultants. One of our advisors on the team is Kevin O'Connell to help with this. We also joined the group started by DARPA called CONFERS to work with others in the industry to develop standards.

-The timeline has been fairly well modeled by aerospace corp using monte-carlo simulations. You can find an old version of this in the "Catcher's Mitt" report. The models will drastically under-predict the problem if more conjunctions occur like the Iridium incident, however so it's really hard to say. The short answer is that ~10 high-risk objects need to be removed per year to stabilize the issue.

My grandad always used to say "where there's muck there's brass" and I always imagined at some point that would include cleaning up space debris, whether to recycle the materials or simply clear space for others.

I actually love the idea of being able to hire someone to shift an orbital object into various orbits. It opens up the possibility of launching a proof of concept satellite or telescope, and not needing to worry about fitting it out with heavy fuel and thrusters. Just pay someone else to deal with that.

With a transport & servicing network in place, that opens the field for a range of centralised operations as well - refuelling depots, recycling services, production lines, it doesn't make sense for all of these to have their own dedicated transport networks.

Good luck with your enterprise, as space activities become more abundant, roles become increasingly specialised, and having a service dedicated to wrangling heavy objects about the place seems like a logical next step.

Your grandad speaks truth! Couldn't agree with the vision you laid out more, this is exactly how we see ourselves being an enabler for other businesses and enterprises operating in space.

Your timing for this niche is probably spot on. Any missions that scavenge falling systems could be called Jawas. Maybe this will be an entry to the asteroid mining with the knowledge gain of moving stuff around. Sounds fun.

Jawas. Love it. And you are spot on, this is the first step towards expanding to Asteroid resource extraction!

Great initiative! Curious to track your development as a company.

I'm currently developing this web interface to make it easier for people to discover all the various objects, satellites and debris in orbit at the moment: https://space-search.io/

Happy to connect if there is overlapping interest :)

Wow that website looks very nice. We built ours using cesium but it has a lot of bloat that we don't need. This looks much cleaner and faster. We'll connect with you on LinkedIn.

Interesting concept! A few reflexions :

- How do you ensure that you have approval from the debris 'owner' before de-orbiting it? Or could I use your service to target competition satellites? (or is it part of the business model?)

- What is the minimal size of a debris? It is my understanding that small debris such as screw can do lot of damage in space (as everything is moving fast), but not sure if it will be easy to catch a 1 inch debris with a robot arm.

- I really like the idea of raising the orbit of an old but functioning satellite, as this could expend their service life. However not sure if this will still have value once cost of access to space decrease?

I have discussed this issue with a number of space underwriters and they consider it to be such a small problem it does not factor in to their premium calculations. If insurance against something is routinely thrown in for free is it viable to build a business about solving that problem?

Are there any international law hurdles for this type of operation? I recall seeing mention of prohibition or at least a grey area around satellite docking / movement by government agencies because of the potential military applications.

Oh yeah. One situation we will avoid - deorbiting other peoples things without their permission. Its international waters out there and if you attempt to dock for example with a Russian rocket upper stage, (as a US company) that would be an act of war. No bueno. Lots of regulatory innovation needs to (and we think will) occur over the next 5-10 years to ensure a sustainable space environment!

> with the rapidly declining cost of getting things into space

Are there some graphs with current and projected costs per kg to different orbits?

Couple more questions:

1. Do you need to refuel your fleet in orbit? Does that require a new tech, or that already exists? I suppose ISS gets regular shipments as well, but your approach probably needs to be unmanned?

2. What do you hope to get out of YC? Do they have some particular expertise or connections?

Great chart from Cathie Woods 'Ark Innovation Report' showing project costs per kg to LEO https://seekingalpha.com/article/4418916-arkx-space-etf-top-...

1. We are utilizing highly efficient electric propulsion that eliminates the need for refueling to make money, but when refueling in orbit does become available you bet we'll be at the front of the line at Space Chevron 2. YC has been an enormous help with getting us started. They drilled the single most important thing into our skulls for really any startup - talk to customers. Besides their amazing network, the group partners have really helped us focus on what is important in order to make our vision a reality. If you are considering, apply to YC!!

Perhaps I'm slightly out of the loop here, but reading through the list of holdings [0], this feels more like a generic tech ETF, just actively managed and with high fees. It's entirely possible that I've just missed some news in this space, but what do Nvidia, Netflix, etc have to do with space?

[0] https://static.seekingalpha.com/uploads/2021/4/12/49782598-1...

Isn't "droid" trademarked by LucasFilm? Are you using the term under license from them?

Trademarks apply to specific goods and services. LucasFilm's trademark for "droid" applies to:

Interactive entertainment software and accompanying instruction manuals sold as a unit, namely, computer game software and manuals sold as a unit, video game software and manuals sold as a unit; video game software, computer game software, and pre-recorded CD-ROMs and DVDs featuring games, films, music, computer game software, and video game software; downloadable video game software and downloadable computer game software


"sigh of relief" :)

Probably only an issue if it says "roger roger" after receiving commands.

This entire line of phones licensed the branding from Lucasfilm, and I remember this would even be marked on the Motorola ads.

They've sued over it before too.

To deorbit a LEO object, adding drag is viable. The original launcher could add activatable drag items, balloons, inflatable streamers - in the stowed flat state = low drag. Deployed and inflated by a material that evaporate/sublimed it could be made to multiply drag by 10x or so. In the lower orbits this would hasten decay. Higher orbits - not so much. That will need added drive power. Most efficient is a solar cell package with a directable array that powered retro force of rocket (ion jet) of small size, but running a lot of the time. LEO = hard to avoid shade, but while the sun shines the persistent drag will lower the orbit = the lower the better and at some point it will be torn off just before it piles in. The so called gravity tug concept is not at all viable. Mating and a solar powered ion drive is the only good way.

We have looked into drag and solar sails, EM tethers, as well as installing modules to provide retrograde propulsion. We agree though, the best approach right now is just docking and moving at the moment.

The use of combustion based propulsion is doomed IMHO, except for imminent collisions that warrant a rush launch of a mobile, attachable thruster. My preference would be the perfection of a number of attachable(glue or epoxy or clampable?) ion jets with a suitable steerable solar cell to power it along with a refillable mother ship with a dozen of these deployable systems within it - perhaps in a standard large cube sat that is large enough to boost and refill the mother ship - which would have it's own solar array to power it's own ion jets to meet the prey to be de-orbited. Once there the small de-orbiter would be released close to the prey, whereon it would deploy it's own solar array and steerable ion jet system (which might be a set of 3 for steering. I agree, their thrust would be low - but continuously applied until depleted it would act to lower the prey to a higher drag orbit. In addition, I might suggest that all satellites be designed with a number of standard push-on attachment fittings, perhaps with orientation ridges(to prevent rotation) alongside so one of these thrusters could attach and lock to the prong without need of glue or threads. I am sure that such an attachment prong can be designed. There are fairly frequent cube-sat launches that could, for a fee, be willing to orbit more of these thrust recharge cube sats to add to the fleet that is gradually going to solve this issues.

Not to be a spur under your saddle, but why not just collect the junk to a higher orbit for reuse at a later date; maybe as extra parts for space station repair? It's expensive to get material up there, so why send it down into an incinerator so no one can use it?

Not a spur at all, you are spot on! With higher orbits like GEO (35,000 km altitude) it actually makes more sense to take debris and dead satellites out even further to what is known as the 'graveyard' orbit. We can also see a future where we take parts off dead satellites (ie solar panels) and move them to a hub where they can be repurposed. On that note take a look at what the company Arkisys is doing!

Similar service was done for the first time on a Norwegian TV-satellite a couple of month ago, to give it prolonged lifetime: https://www-romsenter-no.translate.goog/Aktuelt/Siste-nytt/G...

“ On March 12, 2021, the Mission Extension Vehicle 2 (MEV-2) satellite docked with the THOR 10-02 communications satellite in geostationary orbit, more than 36,000 kilometers out in space.”

I'm disappointed that your website won't give me a quote for de-orbiting the ISS. Ummm.... just curious.

Welllll... Technically it does (just use the norad id 25544 and the 'deorbit' service). A bit outside of the capabilities for a single Droid though :(

This was always one of those pitches I was telling friend at a bar...you know when you go like - HEY I BET THIS IS GONNA BE A THING! Glad y'all are working on this! Super exciting venture!

Appreciate the love Orliesaurus, wish us luck!

good luck!!!

>> the Droid would undock with the debris after dragging it to a low orbit, then orbit-raise, and go on to perform other missions.

What altitudes do you propose for this? De-orbiting something from geostationary orbit this way would take a huge amount of fuel. But deorbiting targets from lower orbits would provide little time for your droid to accelerate and avoid itself being slowed at the low end of the new orbit.

We've looked into both, in GEO it would be just moving to graveyard orbit, In LEO there are large objects in the 1100 km range that we'd like to bring down to ~400km before going back up.

That would make the most sense.

Aren't smaller chunks of debris the ones posing the greatest problems? Like something the size of a rock you can hold in your hand, or even a few cm across? Because my understanding was we can at least avoid large objects for now, but smaller ones are hard to detect in the first place. Do you have any ideas or how to deal with those?

Small objects tend to start out as large objects. If you can get rid of a large object before it becomes a thousand small objects, that's a win.

Oh I'm not suggesting it's not a win by any means. Any debris removed is better. I'm just wondering how much of a difference it would make at the end of the day.

It wouldn't make a difference to the current number of debris items in orbit today. It would make a big difference in the potential number of items in a few decades.

The biggest problem I see with space debris removal is with the business model. Who will pay for the removal of it?

Exactly! It is a total chicken and egg problem. What I mean is, who will pay to remove stuff if regulations are not set up accordingly? And if nobody will pay to remove stuff, how do you build a business with that premise? The bridge to reaching that point for us is utilizing our spacecraft for satellite servicing at first. Specifically orbit modification, loss mitigation repairs, and asset inspection.

This is what I'm thinking: One day this might be a business. Someone has to pay to remove debris, and I'm just wondering who will pay enough?

Even here on the surface there are places with debris not cleaned up, because the cost is too high.

I think the services aspect is the way to go. Forget about debris. Yes that's a big problem, but it doesn't seem to have a sufficiently motivated customer.

Who will pay to NOT have their satellite being removed?

Extortion is usually frowned upon by the courts as a business model.

> Our spacecraft aims to remove debris by docking with it using robotic arms and dragging the debris to a lower orbit

Sounds _exactly_ what ClearSpace is doing under their ESA contract.


Yes we aren't the only team in this space but we believe multiple organizations need to be working to address this problem with different approaches.

Who is currently paying for the service of debris removal? Who will likely be paying in ten years?

Currently - no one (in the US). Europeans and Japanese are ahead of the game compared to the US, but it'll come from the Office of Space Commerce / DoD / NASA. Until then, we plan to build the technology by providing orbit modification services to existing satellites, inspection services, etc.

This reminds me of the movie space sweepers, that used humans in ships rather than robots though.


Do you think it could make economic sense any time soon to safely bring home historically interesting satellites for museum displays and research? Think Vanguard 1 (1958), Telstar 1 (1962) etc. Something you ever thought about?

Yeah we've actually talked about this with Inversion Space. We would be very interested in bringing vanguard back to earth but there needs to be a re-entry vessel available to put it in.

Interesting problem space and solution. Question, is there any value in the raw materials contained in the debris? Would it be feasible to aggregate/collect a certain, let’s say, “value threshold” of debris that makes it economically reasonable to return a bulk payload back to earth? Even if the answer is currently “no”, it seems like harvesting essentially free materials and suspending them en masse in a controlled orbit makes a lot of sense. Eventually groups will want to fabricate in space, and you could have the raw materials ready to provide.

This is quite a popular idea but there's a lot of challenging economics that haven't been figured out yet.

CisLunar Industries [1] for example wants to harvest and process metal from debris on orbit.

Their initial application is to create metal fuel rods for thruster technology being developed by Neumann Space [2].

[1] https://www.cislunarindustries.com

[2] https://neumannspace.com

I’ve been wondering lately if you could use little puffs of gas fired from a satellite at very high velocity to impact smaller debris and take some kinetic energy from it.

It sounds ridiculous but v^2 scales quickly and if you can achieve anything close to the exhaust velocity from ion thrusters combined with retrograde orbit you can start knocking on the door of 100km/s impact velocity. That’s ~5J per microgram.

Obviously a tremendous number of challenges (puff coherency over great distances, accuracy over same, stationkeeping, etc) but interesting to me nonetheless.

Right now we are primarily focused on building something to address the big stuff because of the possibility of breaking up into thousands of smaller debris. At some point the smaller debris will need to be addressed, in which case its possible something like this would work. That being said Space Lasers may also be a contender, but that comes with the caveat of being classified as a weapon. Either way it will be interesting to see different ideas come to fruition over time, both from our playbook, and from others!

Lasers were my first thought since it requires so much energy to change orbits in order to interact more directly with the debris. What properties are considered when classifying lasers as weapons? Would a lower power laser still be feasible for small debris?

I can think of only two applicable mechanisms of action with lasers, there could be more:

1 - Radiation pressure. This is just momentum exchange between the object and incoming photons. It very clearly has a force and is partly responsible for sending dead spacecraft into a tumbling motion. The challenge with radiation pressure is that it has an extremely small effect relative to the input power, in the range of micronewtons per kilowatt. Low power lasers that would not be considered 'possible weapons' would be effective but over very long timescales.

2 - Ablative reaction. When you ramp the energy level enough to cook off layers of material, the ejection of the particles has a reaction effect that pushes the object in the opposite direction. Fiber laser engravers (YouTube it if you're not familiar) use this as the mechanism for material removal. These lasers have relatively low average power (say 20W-100W), but its delivered in very short high-power pulses necessary to heat just the skin of the material. Because of that, the instantaneous power levels might be 100-500kW, clearly 'weapons' class. It wouldn't have any effect on ground targets but could easily be employed in anti-satellite operations.

I have thought about this too, retrograde orbit buys you a lot of “free” energy for deorbiting things going in the other direction. The “puff coherency” problem as you succinctly put it seems like the hardest problem. Maybe if the gas is ionized, you could use another spacecraft[s] to generate a magnetic field that could trap the cloud long enough to get the “puffer” craft out of the way before impact.

Super excited for this launch. What a fantastic team, and honestly capabilities that have been missing from the space ecosystem!

Thank you Laura, you and your teams support means a lot, and its because of other innovators like yourselves that make something like this possible!

i think your droid spaceship will have to do a lot of maneuvering, in order to get into an orbit with small relative distance and velocity to the debris to be gathered. My question is: what will be the lifetime of a single droid spaceships, for how long will it last?

Also, you are planning to use ion thrusters, which is really cutting edge technology; Now wikipedia mentions that starlink sattelites are using ion thrusters in order to raise and adjust orbits. Did you consider asking them for permission to use the same engines/technology?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ion_thruster#In_Earth_orbit

I’m really curious, since the way you want to remove the debris is by making it burn during atmospheric re-entry, won’t this pollute the atmosphere? I can imagine it’s impact would be very small, but I’m curious if there is any info or study on that.

Great question and I suspect you are correct regarding the impact being small (Tim Dodd the everyday astronaut, made a great youtube video about rocket launch pollution, check that out for sure https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4VHfmiwuv4). He concluded that even with increased launch rates, the pollution remains small compared to other industries such as the airline industry. Not the same thing, but I'd argue the impact from satellites and debris burning up is less than the rocket it took to get up there in the first place. All that being said, we at Turion Space don't want to build a sustainable future in space at the cost of polluting Earth. For the first missions, we will drag the debris down to burn up in Earth's atmosphere, but long term, we plan to utilize reusable launch vehicle upper stages (think Starship, Relativity, and others) to bring stuff back down for us. It's a bit of an essay for a simple question, but regardless of how polluting it may be, with fully reusable launch vehicles coming online in the same time frame we are looking at performing missions, we will use those to bring stuff back down.

I come here for computer security/hacking/telco security related articles - but I have to say this subject is one of the most exciting things today. I would give anything to become part of an entity doing this type of work.

Super cool!

1. I know there are a few other startups/companies working on similar technology. What differentiates y'all? I think Turion is the only one I've seen come out of YC though.

2. Don't see a careers page on your website. Are you hiring?

I am super stoked about all the other companies working on solutions to the debris problem, and see this problem as too important to leave to any single entity / team (including ourselves!). What differentiates us from some of the other ideas is our overall approach to vehicle design. Besides robot arms, or other capture mechanisms what are we fundamentally trying to do? Move things around. What is the key design parameter for moving things around in space? dV. Our approach to optimizing for this number is unique (more on that another time, can't spoil all the fun just yet!). Our team will move rapidly, copying the Elon playbook approach to building hardware which I'm quite familiar with (8.5 year SpaceX veteran). In regards to hiring, next month we'll begin our hiring ramp so keep an eye on the site if you are interested!

Thanks for the response, y'all sound like a cool group of people. Wish you the best of luck, and I might sneak an application in once you get that hiring page up.


Congratulations on your launch. I'm don't have technical background to understand the nitty gritty, but reading through all the comments itself is an immense learning on the topic.Good luck.

Congratulations on the launch! I am excited for what you're building. I also love your website. :)

This comment isn't meant to be negative. What you're doing is exciting and amazing. Nothing anyone says should detract from that. However, I have broader questions and (market) skepticism after being around people starting such companies.

Most of the questions here are deal with the technical. But I think you folks will solve that and then some. For those who aren't as familiar with the field, autonomous rendezvous, docking, and servicing has been possible for 15+ years. DARPA's Orbital Express mission autonomously rendezvoused, docked, and replaced a target vehicle's flight computer in 2007, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orbital_Express .

My questions mostly revolve around the business side, who is going to pay for it and why?

Here is my current understanding of the issue:

Orbital debris removal is a tragedy of the commons problem which makes who pays for it and why muddled in the best of circumstances. The market situation right now is not the best of circumstances. Currently, to the best of my knowledge, there is no single stakeholder who is impacted enough to unilaterally take action. It isn't a pain point - yet. Most of the valuable orbits, like the sunsynchronous orbits do not have enough debris to degrade service. The most valuable orbit - GEO - is managed actively to avoid service degradation through debris.

The debris that does exist is mostly from the Chinese Anti-Satellite weapons test + the Cosmos + Iridium conjunction event. This debris is concentrated around the 750km to 850km, https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Distribution-of-cataloge... , and these orbits aren't valuable enough for this to be a concern, as of now.

There is some concern around the mega-constellations, but SpaceX's constellation will be at around the 550km mark. If the worst does happen, and we have a cascade, then all the debris will be deorbit itself in less than a decade. And it - most likely - won't significantly impact any other services except in a ±20km altitude of the cascade. Kuiper will be at 630km, so that is likely to take longer (the orbital lifetime for an object w.r.t. altitude is an exponential one), but it is manageable.

OneWeb's constellation is more worrying at 1,2000km, but AFAICT, they won't send up enough assets for it to be a significant concern. Space is big after all.

Furthermore, no country has - so far - ever, without express permission, rendezvoused, docked, and altered the orbit of an object by another country. Someone involved with UNOOSA put it to me this way, you can look all you want, but you can't touch. You can come close to another country's satellite, you two can peak at each other, take photos of one another, try and measure the other's payload etc. But you can't do a hard (or soft) capture of one another, because that is a declaration of war. IANAL, but short of getting a contract with the Chinese Govt. you can't actually address the largest source of space debris - it would be an act of war. For debris where the ownership is muddled or the organization is no longer extant, the "how much are people willing to pay for this" factor doesn't seem to eclipse the "will this cause diplomatic incident/spark a war" factor. It doesn't seem like a profitable beehive to poke.

As far as I can see, there isn't a single stakeholder with an orbital debris hair on fire problem right now. All of my friends who have started a company around debris have ended up pivoting into the satellite servicing market, much in the same way as you indicate. However, even there there are concerns that make the problem domain difficult for a successful business to operate in.

The hard capture business is the national security business. You can see that with Momentus. I am unaware of any other industry where such a thing happens, but the DoD explicitly had the company remove its Russian CEO and had him divest all of his assets before allowing the company to proceed with operations,

> In-space transportation company Momentus says its Russian co-founders are now “completely divested” from the company as it reaches a national security agreement with federal agencies.

> In March, Momentus announced that Kokorich and Brainyspace LLC, the company owned by Khasis and his wife, had put their shares into a voting trust and would divest them within three years. The move, the company said, was in response to correspondence from the Defense Department in January “stating Momentus posed a risk to national security as a result of the foreign ownership and control of Momentus by Mikhail Kokorich and Lev Khasis and their associated entities.”


More privately, I have noticed that all of the startups that have made a viable autonomous rendezvous, docking, and servicing system seem to go dark. I'm guessing this usually coincides with substantial DoD interest and money. As they seem to be the largest (and perhaps only) customer right now.

I would be surprised if Turion Space, as an American company, would be allowed to - legally or otherwise - to service Chinese assets. Based on personal experience, I just don't see that happening short of something extraordinary. Servicing European assets might also fall under some fairly onerous restrictions.

Maybe companies launching smallsats and cubesats might hire you for extending the service lifetime of their missions, but if launch costs truly decrease, then it might be cheaper for them to send up a new mission with better tech than have you service it.

Is my understanding of the market correct? If so, this brings me back to my original question, who is this for? And why will they buy it?

I believe that you can succeed. But I don't know if the market exists yet for you to succeed.

This may be stupid question, but why not use that debris as reaction mass? I mean throw/accelerate it backwards, so that debris orbit is even lower, but your orbit is much higher?

I'm curious about your decision to use robotic arms. Why arms and not, say, (electro)magnets? Or perhaps both - they aren't mutually exclusive. Or maybe you are doing both...

Robotic arms are more general purpose, but we likely will end up doing both at some point (plan on testing both for our demonstration mission). The only downside to electromagnets is you need to pre-emptively install something on the satellite before its launched to make use of it.

Why not pattern-match the debris over clouds and shove it with a solar charged laserpulse down into atmosphere?

There are a few ideas like this floating around and this may be a viable solution for small objects in the future. You might have countries calling you up asking about space warfare concerns though.

Anything in space with a booster is by definition a weapon :D

What advantages/disadvantages do you have compared to Restore-L/OSAM-1?

We plan to leverage some of the technology on-board the Restore-L via technology license agreements with NASA. There are a lot of potential solutions and different approaches and we hope to be one of them. The space requires a decent number of these satellites in-space and NASA's not in the market of producing and operating large fleets of satellites. To answer your question, It's too early to say what the ultimate advantages or disadvantages will be from different players.

Would that emit large quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere?

Amazing! Super awesome team and very useful technology.

Do you need some helping hands from DevOps guys?

Are you hiring?

We will begin our hiring ramp up soon so check the website again next month!

Congrats on the launch! I have built a job board for the Space industry here is the link if you want to have your job offers on the site. https://rocketcrew.space/

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