SPACE (KXAN) — We could soon see the construction of more permanent structures in space. Aerospace company Arkisys is hoping to build what they’re calling ‘The Port.’
“It is a satellite by definition, but it is really a long duration platform, much akin to say the International Space Station but much smaller,” said Dan Lopez, chief business officer for Arkisys.
The satellite works much like a Lego brick. Each brick, which is about six feet across, can attach to another brick. On top of that, tiny satellites and devices can be attached.
“It’s very similar to what you see on Earth — sea port, where commodities come and go, they get onboard and offloaded to vessels,” Lopez said. “Those vessels themselves can be refueled. They can be modified. They can be augmented.”
Instead of launching new satellites, companies could lease real estate on The Port and attach their equipment to it.
“We can utilize that real estate and resources to do things like building the next highway and put in space building infrastructure,” Lopez said.
According to Lopez, the advantage of building a structure like The Port is it can help reduce space debris.
The growing space debris problem
More satellites are launching into space every year. According to the United Nations, 2,163 new satellites were launched into space in 2022.
“(When) you ship stuff up to space, it also creates small little bits of debris,” Lopez said. This debris can be large things, like old satellites that haven’t burned up in orbit yet, to tiny flecks of paint and screws.
This debris is moving at high speeds. If it collides with another satellite, space craft or astronaut, it could cause catastrophic damage.
“Putting more stuff in orbit is not a good idea,” Lopez said. His hope is that The Port can be used to recycle materials already in space, use them and grow. He compared it to reforestation, cleaning up what once was pristine.
Critiques of The Port proposal
Not everyone thinks The Port is a good solution for the space debris problem.
“The idea of space pooling makes sense. I just, I have no sense for how credible their technology is,” said Moriba Jah Ph.D., co-founder of Privateer Space, former NASA engineer and associate professor at the University of Texas.
Jah is an expert on space debris and the removal of it. His Astriagraph project helps monitor space debris.
“All of us have very cool ideas of what things might look like and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, who has credibility to pull this stuff off?” Jah asked.
Jah said that there are more practical solutions to address space debris, like a mitigation plan that can be monitored and verified by independent bodies.
Currently, many governments require people launching things into space to provide a debris plan. The United States currently does this.
However, Jah said that not enough eyes are on this problem. “There’s no mechanism for independently verifying and validating or verifying that these people are actually going to (follow through with their plan),” Jah said.