Space start-up Privateer, co-founded by the famous Apple technologist Steve Wozniak, will begin orbital testing of its ride-sharing orbital module Pono in January.
The module, which was launched on December 1 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, was created to encourage space users to share assets to reduce the growing number of satellites and other orbital clutter around Earth.
“Just like we’re trying to reduce single-use plastics, we want to reduce single-use satellites,” space sustainability researcher and Privateer chief scientist Moriba Jah told Space.com in an interview. “We don’t have recyclable satellites yet. But in Pono, we have developed a package that can make the satellites multi-use.”
Jah is critical of the current unrestricted developments in space and wants the sector to adapt to an attitude more in line with the concept of a circular economy – a method of using resources aimed at sustainability to use materials as much as possible through recycling. to constantly mine for new materials. Inspired by car-sharing, which offers a more resource-conscious alternative to owning a car, satellite-sharing will soon become a preferred choice for space data researchers.
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“Just like you’re ridesharing with Uber, you can oversubscribe a common asset so more people get the benefit,” Jah said. “Not everyone who wants to get data about space and from space needs to launch a satellite.”
To show that they practice what they preach, Privateer launched Pono not as a standalone spacecraft, but as part of a mission run by Italian start-up D-Orbit. All future Pono missions will be launched in collaboration with other satellite operators to help reduce the number of new objects in space.
Like many other space sustainability experts, Jah has concerns about the growing number of operational satellites and debris orbiting Earth. According to European Space Agency, as of November 2023, 6,800 operational satellites orbit the planet with about 36,000 pieces of space debris larger than 4 inches (10 centimeters) and millions of smaller fragments. These numbers are set to increase as mega-constellations of internet-beaming satellites, such as SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, continue to grow. Experts fear that with so many ‘things’ in orbit, collisions will become commonplace.
“From an environmental lens, the way we behave today is kind of leading to our own demise in the use of space,” Jah said. “So, we have to do something different.”
In addition to enabling users to share space assets, Pono has another function aimed at improving the continuity of orbital operations: The module collects data about orbital traffic, which Privateer will use to create “Google maps” in space — an interactive application called Wayfinder, integrating information from the upcoming Pono constellation and other sources.
Privateer spokesman Beau Holder told Space.com that the company eventually envisions an entire Ponos constellation. The second module is scheduled to be launched in 2024, and the first platform to serve customers is expected to fly a year later.
Equipped with a powerful edge computer capable of running complex AI and machine learning algorithms, Pono will likely find its place in the Earth observation market, allowing users which will process images in orbit instead of bringing large datasets to Earth. In the future, Pono’s on-board computers will even be able to evaluate the risk of orbital collisions and perform self-control maneuvers.
“Pono is a compact hosted payload that physically integrates with companion satellites,” Holder wrote in an email. “Privateer will offer the commercial model to all interested operators, who will receive improved tracking, productivity, and aggregation avoidance along with the smooth delivery of their data to new markets.”
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Image Source : www.space.com