ISO 9001 & UKAS Registered, Electron Beam Services in the United Kingdom ISO 9001 & UKAS Registered, Electron Beam Services in the United Kingdom

It’s no secret that sending satellites into orbit is a costly process. What’s more, the size of the rocket required to launch a small satellite is often considerably larger than the payload itself, making the process costly and inefficient.

There’s also a growing awareness of the rising levels of space debris as a result of hundreds of rocket launches from Earth over the years, but now new technology is being developed that could help limit this problem.

A team at the University of Glasgow is working with researchers at Oles Honchar Dnipro National University in Ukraine to develop so-called ‘self-eating’ rockets for the launch of small satellites.

The idea behind the technology being developed is that the engine used to launch the satellite would effectively consume itself, rather than needing to carry extra fuel. The other advantage to using an autophage engine such as this is that it would free up more space for cargo, as well as reducing the debris being sent into orbit.

Dr Patrick Harkness, senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow’s school of engineering and leader of the university’s contribution to the project, explained that there is still a lot of work to do before it can be put into practice though.

“While we’re still at an early stage of development, we have an effective engine testbed in the laboratory in Dnipro, and we are working with our colleagues to improve it still further,” he said. Currently, rocket operations have been sustained for 60 seconds with this new engine in the laboratory.

A recent post for Satellite Pro ME cited statistics that indicate there are currently 29,000 useless objects greater than 10cm in volume that are drifting in the Earth’s orbit, adding that these pose a risk to operational satellites as well as spacecraft such as the International Space Station.

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