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Foam News: Space Clean-ups

Foam news in space

At eFoam, we’ve been keeping track of the numerous innovations taking place in the foam sector, both in the UK and across the globe. The industry development that has caught our attention this week is that of Russian space start-up StartRocket. As a researched-based company, StartRocket’s new invention - consisting of sticky foam ‘spiderwebs’ – seeks to address the problem of space junk.

Over the decades, space exploration has left traces of kit and many years’ worth of redundant satellites orbiting the Earth. This may not seem an immediate problem to those of us firmly on land, but it is this space debris that is presenting an increasing risk to future astronauts looking to travel into space. Furthermore, with the promise of consumer space travel likely to materialise in the next few years by companies like Virgin Galactic, space debris must be cleared.

Experts estimate there to be half a million man-made objects orbiting our planet, ranging from large items like retired space equipment and satellites to tiny specks of paint. Even the smallest of objects can pose a catastrophic risk to spacecraft moving at incredible speeds. This is where StartRocket’s new foam-based innovation – a top-secret, sticky foam material – will be used to collect and de-orbit this junk.

Foam space clean-up

Dubbed to launch in late 2021, “ScoopSat” is the company’s rocket-powered satellite connected to a foam 3D printer. Officially termed the Test Foam Sat, its 3D printer will quickly create a polymeric foam that will spray the junk object in question when in close range. To de-orbit the junk, StartRocket is counting on the foam to increase the debris surface area to increase aerodynamic drag. In turn, this will make it easier for space junk to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up faster.

Test Foam Sat marks the first step in StartRocket’s foam-based innovation journey. Should all go to plan, the company is planning to develop a larger satellite of up to 50 meters in diameter that will be capable of spraying strings of foam to create a foam ‘web’ of sticky spheres. This will essentially create a spider web for any space junk, measuring a huge 150 meters in diameter. At present, StartRocket is working on the polymeric foam that is to be used in its specialist satellites, and if it is proven to be successful in initial tests, the company will be making it widely available for other organisations to launch similar space clean-up projects.

To date, StartRocket’s initial development of its product has been backed by Kasperkey, a Russian IT security company, but the remainder is being privately crowdfunded by the public. Given that there is no international agreement or plan to help eliminate the problem of space junk, it is hoped that the StartRocket development will not only prove to be successful, but will once again demonstrate the incredibly versatile nature of foam and its research credentials.

Should you be interested in hearing more on a particular innovation or recent news story regarding foam that you have seen, please do contact us.

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