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  • Writer's pictureQuinn Morley

ACTION: Advanced Capture and Transport Integrated deOrbiting Nanosat

Read the 3-page white paper here. The ACTION (Advanced Capture and Transport Integrated deOrbiting Nanosat) mission concept is a novel approach to tackle the growing issue of orbital debris. By focusing on smaller debris objects, we can reduce collision risks for existing spacecraft and create a sustainable space environment. ACTION is a 6U CubeSat capable of removing three debris objects per mission from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Its design is flexible, cost-effective, and scalable, providing a significant advantage over larger Active Debris Removal (ADR) missions.

The ACTION unit contains three Capture, Containment, De-spin and Drag (CCDD) modules and three small Thruster-Deorbiting Kits (TDKs). The CCDD module expands upon deployment and uses a drawstring closure to contain debris. A 20-meter electromagnetic tether is then deployed, along with a counterweight, to stabilize spinning debris by transferring angular momentum.

Our proposed mission concept targets debris around 10 cm in size, ranging from 5 cm to 30 cm. The CCDD module's innovative folding design enables three modules to be stowed and deployed from a volume of 2 L. The structure consists of frame pieces, a spring-like frame piece, and a carbon-Kevlar-reinforced mylar "bag" that acts as a tensioned skin once deployed.

After deployment, the CCDD module is stabilized by a basic Reaction Control System (RCS) and targets debris using LIDAR sensing or a computer vision system. The autonomous debris capture and tether deployment are activated by a simple analog circuit or mechanical device. Deorbiting is primarily accomplished using the tether, producing electromagnetic and aerodynamic drag.

By retroactively enforcing deorbit compliance on assets up to 30 cm in size, the ACTION concept has the potential to prevent future debris creation and enable a low-cost path to a sustainable space environment. Our study aims to evaluate the feasibility of this innovative concept and its potential applications in orbital debris remediation. As a final note, although we have decided not to pursue the ACTION project further, we recognize the importance of continuing efforts in the field of orbital debris remediation. We would like to recommend the work being done by Space Cowboy Active Debris Remediation (ADR). Their innovative approach aligns well with our initial concept, and they have successfully established strong relationships with the Department of Defense and industry partners. Space Cowboy ADR captures and removes small pieces of space debris, ensuring the protection of satellite assets and the preservation of the orbital environment. To learn more about their mission and services, please visit their website at We do hope, however, that they come to see the value of disposable deorbiting spacecraft for LEO operations (vs. shepherd spacecraft). We encourage them to keep this in mind, and to consider it each time they examine scaling up their business.

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