Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has successfully repositioned the UK-DMC-1 spacecraft
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) has successfully repositioned the UK-DMC-1 spacecraft, which is reaching the end of its operational life, using unspent propellant to reduce the orbital lifetime and the probability of generating space debris.
Since the first satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched in 1957, thousands of satellites, launch vehicles and probes have been sent into space. In fact, it is estimated that there are more than half a million pieces of debris larger than a centimetre currently orbiting the Earth and the problem can only grow as existing satellites age and more are launched. NASA has replaced windows on the space shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS) has been repositioned after a near-miss event. Even the smallest object, such as a bolt or a speck of paint can cause critical damage to a spacecraft when travelling at speeds of up to 25,000 mph and the practice of predicting potential collisions and manoeuvring to avoid them is increasing within the satellite community.
UK-DMC-1ís manoeuvres were designed to deplete the remaining butane from the propellant tanks in the spirit of industry best practice regarding orbital debris. Depletion of the propellant ensures that there are no on-board pressure sources which could cause the spacecraft to break-up and increase the space debris population. These manoeuvres have also brought the satellite closer to Earth, and thereby reduced the time until atmospheric re-entry by more than 100 years reducing the probability of orbital collisions in the future.