Steve Wozniak has created the private space company Privateer with Ripcord founder Alex Fielding. Although not yet confirmed, the company appears to be focused on removing space debris in orbit around Earth.
On Monday, September 13, Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs, tweeted a link to the first video on the Privateer YouTube channel with the caption, “A private space company is starting up, unlike the others.”
The video is cryptic and does not state outright what the goal of Privateer will be. The most notable section of the video calls on society to work together to do the right thing.
“It is up to us to work together to do what is right and what is good. So here’s to taking care of what we have so that the next generation can be better together.”
Privateer’s website doesn’t add much to mystery. The site is basic, stating simply that the company is in “stealth mode.”
However, an unrelated press release spotted by Gizmodo sheds light on the mystery. It describes Privateer as a “new satellite company focused on monitoring and cleaning up objects in space.”
Space junk is an increasingly worrisome phenomenon. NASA is currently tracking more than 27,000 large pieces of space junk. However, the problem is much larger than that.
A significant amount of space junk is too small to be tracked. It is, nonetheless, dangerous. An object the size of a fleck of paint traveling at orbital speeds has the potential to destroy valuable space assets. Additionally, with the development of mega-constellations like Starlink and OneWeb, the space junk problem is one that cannot be ignored.
A number of companies and governmental institutions have begun to explore debris removal and mitigation strategies.
In 2018, the RemoveDEBRIS satellite was launched aboard a Falcon 9 and deployed from the International Space Station. The demonstration mission utilised a net and a harpoon to capture simulated debris.
Northrop Grumman has taken another approach aiming to mitigate rather than remove. To do this, the company utilises what it calls Mission Extension Vehicles (MEV). These vehicles dock with satellites running low on fuel, enabling them to remain operational for years longer than their original design life. The company has launched two MEVs thus far.
Privateer isn’t the only startup exploring this currently untapped market. Swiss startup ClearSpace and British startup Effective Space are both working on space debris mitigation and removal solutions.
According to a caption on the Privateer teaser video, the company plans to reveal more at the 22nd annual Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference in Hawaii.