July 16, 2019

ORBITAL DEBRIS: Can We Use Special Sails To Bring Old Satellites Back Down To Earth?

Some exotic-sounding solutions involve harpoons, nets, magnets, even lasers. Now NASA has Purdue University-related startup Vestigo Aerospace money for a six month study that looks at using drag sails to de-orbit space junk, including satellites, spent rocket boosters, and other debris, safely.

Vestigo Aerospace was started by David Spencer, an associate professor in Purdue’s College of Engineering. “Through the six-month study, we will advance drag sail technology for the deorbit of small satellites and launch vehicle stages,” Spencer said in a press release. “The safe disposal of space objects upon mission completion is necessary to preserve the utility of high-value orbits.”

Drag sails are a bit different than other methods. While the harpoons, lasers, and nets proposed by various agencies are meant to deal with the space junk that’s already accumulated, drag sails are designed to be built into a satellite and deployed at the end of their useful life.

Faster, please — it’s getting crowded up there.

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