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The De-Orbit Sail that will bring TechDemoSat-1 out of orbit

Space Debris is becoming an increasingly worrying problem for the space industry. Various methods for bringing inactive satellites back into burn up in the earth’s atmosphere are being considered by satellite operators.
TechDemoSat-1 will be escorted back in to the earth’s atmosphere by one of its eight payloads, a specialised de-Orbit sail designed by Cranfield University’s Space Group Team.

The de-orbit sail is the product of several years of Cranfield University’s work on sustainable approaches to space exploration. SSTL’s TechDemoSat-1 gave the Cranfield team the unique opportunity to take-on the challenge of evolving their ideas from designs on paper, to flight-ready hardware. Maintaining a low mass is always a challenge with space projects; the TechDemoSat-1 de-orbit sail is made from a material called Kapton, which is just one thousandth of an inch, or 25 micron, thick.

TechDemoSat-1's De-Orbit Sail from Cranfield University


Stephen Hobbs, who led the project for Cranfield University, said: “The main challenges were the short timescale, and coordinating all the different elements which were new to us as we moved from just doing paper studies to producing real flight hardware. Individually, several of us had practical project experience including previous space missions, but it was the first flight hardware project for the Space Group as a team.”


The sail will be deployed when TechDemoSat-1 issues a command at the end of its mission. This command will trigger cable cutters to be fired, which will release a restraining belt, and the sail will then be deployed by stored spring energy. Cranfield’s payload will then take up to 25 years to safely guide the TechDemoSat-1 spacecraft into the earth’s atmosphere to disintegrate.


Exactly how long Cranfield’s de-orbit sail will take to complete the satellite’s course back into our atmosphere will be a subject of great importance to those interested in the management of space debris and the continued exploration and utilisation of space. This process will be affected by a range of things including the amount of solar activity that it is being exposed to, and what altitude the satellite is at when the sail is deployed.


>SSTL hopes that TechDemoSat-1, through offering organisations the rare opportunity to demonstrate their payload’s abilities in space, will help the collaborating organisations win substantial international business. TechDemoSat-1 is due for launch later this year.






16 September 20130 Comments1 Comment

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