Some months ago, I wrote a post – A fun idea for a moon mission – about a robotic lunar program I would fund if I had billions to burn and wanted to help advance humans into becoming a spacefaring civilization. The idea would be to 3D print bricks with actual lunar regolith to see how strong they would be. I was thinking about this recently, and I wondered what other space missions I would fund – if I had billions to burn – to help humans in space. What I came up with was the J-Prize, I guess, for space junk removal.
This would start
with three small satellites, probably launched on an Electron rocket. The first would be your basic cube sat, the
second would be a larger cube sat, but with a solar panel sticking out so it
would be odd shaped, and the third satellite would remain attached to the kick
stage to help simulate a more massive satellite. These would be put into slightly different
orbits, but which are pretty much guaranteed to decay in the five-to-six-year
range. What exactly these satellites
would do, I’d leave that to whoever builds them, probably schools or
universities that I would give a free ride to orbit to. There would be the understanding that these
satellites would be given one year to function, but after that they would
become targets for deorbiting tech demonstrations. So they might function for the full five
years, or get deorbited right after one year in orbit.
demonstrations would have three tiers.
The first tier would be to just inspect the satellites. To that end, there would be symbols, or code
phrases put on each. Prelaunch photos of
them would be blurred, and everyone who knows what they are would have to sign
NDAs, so to get these codes you’d have to actually fly to these
satellites. And there might be two or
three on each satellite, each worth X dollars.
For the third satellite, they might be big and easy to spot, but for the
cube sat, they might just be a centimeter in size, so the imaging satellite
would have to fly real close to be able to make it out. So, unlike the other tiers which would pay
out more for the larger satellites, for the first tier you’d make the most imaging
The second tier
would pay if you manage to deorbit the satellite early. This could be accomplished by attaching some
sort of drag, or attaching a small rocket to push it out of orbit,
whatever. The third tier would be if
they manage to return the satellite intact to Earth.
I have no idea
what the exact prize amounts would be, but I’d say that the second tier would
be more than enough to refund the cost of manufacturing the deorbiting satellite
and launching it. And, there would be
bonus prizes. Like, if a company
successfully deorbits one of the test satellites, then for the next ten years
they’d get $1 million for each piece of space junk they deorbit. But if a company didn’t succeed with one of
these test satellites, but they do succeed with some other junk within the next
ten years, they’d get $500 thousand, or something. Because the whole idea of this is to try to
incentivize companies into finding ways to clean up space junk. As such, I wondered if there should be a
penalty if they damage a satellite and create space junk, but that would scare
people off. And that’s why these test
satellites would be put into such short-lived orbits.