Cleaning up space waste
Finalist for the European Inventor Award 2023
Debris that is not cleared increases the likelihood of collisions in space, creating even more space garbage. This issue is known as the Kessler syndrome and puts satellites and space missions at significant risk. In Rossettini’s words, “Today we have hundreds of millions of fragments in orbit that basically represent the biggest threat for satellites. We don’t know where they are. So every time you send a satellite, you bet on a lottery not to be hit by one of these.”
D-Orbit’s system, called the D-Orbiter Decommissioning Device (D3), is a small, independent, smart motor attached to a satellite before launch. The D3 has its own independent propulsion, fuel, remote-control system and telecommunications unit, enabling operators to safely move small or large satellites out of orbit once they have served their purpose. When it detects an issue with the functioning of the satellite, the D3 activates and begins communicating with operators on Earth.
The D3 enables satellites to be taken out of orbit near Earth, where they burn up in the atmosphere and disintegrate over a designated safe space. In the long term, the technology will also allow satellites to be "parked" in unused "graveyard" orbits away from other objects, potentially contributing to a circular economy in space. Compared to other deorbiting options, D3 is an economical solution for satellite companies, given that the total cost of protecting missions from debris and decommissioning the satellite at the end of its life can be as much as one-tenth of the entire mission cost.
Reaching for the stars
Rossettini has devoted his career to advancing humanity's expansion into space. His passion for space exploration began in childhood. He diligently pursued his dream, serving in the Italian military as an airborne officer before studying aerospace engineering and energetics at a master's and PhD level. He was ranked in the top 2% of the European astronauts' corp candidates but was told his psychological profile was better suited to entrepreneurship. Undeterred by this setback, Rossettini joked, “If I'm too crazy to become an astronaut, maybe I'm crazy enough to build my own spaceship and go to space!". After studying technology entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley, Rossettini founded D-Orbit in 2011, which develops solutions for space logistics and transportation.
In the early days of D-Orbit, Rossettini struggled to raise capital. At one point, he sold the company’s office chairs to raise funds and later, after an investment deal had fallen through, his staff donated their own money to purchase essential parts. The company has grown exponentially, receiving EUR 24.4m in funding and completing 11 space missions with over 100 payloads delivered. Rossettini expects to fulfil his dream of going to space within the next ten years.
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