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Dark: Developing Rocket-Powered Spacecraft to Push Space Debris Out Of Earth’s Orbit

Image Credits: Dark
By: Headliners News / May 6, 2024

Meet Dark, a very innovative Paris-based tech startup, who is on a mission to tackle the growing challenges of space debris and conflict in orbit with an innovative solution: Interceptor, a rocket-powered spacecraft designed to push uncooperative objects out of orbit.

The concept behind Interceptor is reminiscent of a S.W.A.T. team for space — a rapid-response system capable of launching, attaching to, and ultimately de-orbiting stray objects in orbit. CEO Clyde Laheyne envisions Interceptor as an air defense missile for space, emphasizing its readiness for short, unplanned missions to address immediate threats.

Launched from a specially outfitted aircraft, Interceptor navigates to the target object using onboard sensors and propulsion. Once in position, it gently pushes against the object with its cushioned “effector,” facilitating its safe de-orbit. Unlike traditional missiles or anti-satellite weapons, Interceptor’s approach minimizes the risk of creating additional debris or hazardous effects.

The founders of Dark, Clyde Laheyne and CTO Guillaume Orvain, bring valuable experience from their work at multi-national missile developer MBDA, evident in the operational concept of Interceptor. By developing their own launching platform, Dark ensures the readiness of Interceptor for defense, civil, and commercial applications at a moment’s notice.

Dark secured a $5 million funding round in 2021, with European investors leading the investment. Recently, the company closed a $6 million extension, marking its first U.S.-based investment from Long Journey Ventures, led by Arielle Zuckerberg. With funding in place, Dark is focused on developing critical systems and technologies necessary for Interceptor’s success, including long-distance detection and tracking, autonomous flight algorithms, and reliable controlled reentry.

Despite its ambitious goals, Dark faces significant technical challenges, including mastering rendezvous and proximity operations in space. The team plans a demonstration mission in 2026 to validate core technologies, followed by a de-orbit attempt in 2027. While defense applications are part of Dark’s vision, Laheyne emphasizes the importance of deterrence, aiming to make conflicts in space unthinkable through the mere existence of Interceptor.

Ultimately, Dark’s Interceptor represents a pioneering effort to safeguard space infrastructure and mitigate the risks posed by space debris, embodying the company’s commitment to advancing space sustainability and security.

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