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‘Angel Wings’ for Satellites Could Help Mitigate Space Junk

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It may sound futuristic, but space real estate is booming. Large companies and scientific research institutes are actively competing to put satellites into orbit for specific reasons. Development of free internet connection.strengthen GPS systemmonitoring climate change; Albert Einstein’s trippy general relativity.

But as humankind continues to advance technologically, experts are becoming increasingly concerned about a big problem. It’s the discovery that new regions of the universe are polluted. As of 2021, NASA saidmore than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, orspace junk,” lived in our planet’s gravitational currents – and since then only SpaceX has sent there are hundreds more satellites.

Usually, when scientists are done with their devices, they wait until things in Earth’s orbit start to go out of orbit and eventually burn up in the atmosphere. However, this natural process includes really really) Long time.

Therefore, hoping to carve out a cleaner future for our cosmic dreams, Announced by the European Space Agency A solid promise of an innovative prototype aluminium-coated sail. The device can go into orbit with satellites and can deorbit satellites at any time.

This concept is called the Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System (ADEO) to brake the sail. In late December, the smallest of its kind completed its last successful demo-his mission since the program’s key mission in 2018.

Artist impressions of ESA’s prototype breaking sail concept.


how does that work?

Essentially, ESA folded a 3.5 square meter (38 foot) sail into a 10 centimeter (4 inch) jack-in-the-box package.Then the scientist puts the component into homemade space ship Called the ION satellite carrier. ION is Falcon 9 rocket on June 30, 2021.

The sail was then deployed in December 2022 to showcase a silvery polyamide membrane affixed to four carbon-reinforced arms arranged in an X-shape. This increased what is known as the atmospheric surface drag on the satellite carrier. This refers to the force produced by atoms near the top of the atmosphere that move in opposition to the relative motion of something in low earth orbit. Drag can be thought of as friction, but it involves air.

With such an enhanced drag effect, the spacecraft begins to lose orbital altitude at an accelerated pace, leading to the satellite’s eventual demise: burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

ESA structural engineer Tiziana Cardone, who oversaw the project, said, “The ADEO-N sail guarantees that the satellite will re-enter in about one year and three months, otherwise it will take four to five months. We will re-enter in a year.” said in a statement.

The Earth is seen in the distance from the ION satellite's point of view. Covering most of the screen is part of a space sail that breaks.

Camera view from the ION satellite after deploying the sails.


As a nice pictorial of all this, ESA considers the silver sails to be the satellite’s “angel wings”, gently helping it levitate toward death. The official name of ADEO’s latest mission was indeed “Show Me Your Wings.”

Going forward, the sail can be scaled up or down depending on the type of satellite it is connected to, the agency said.

“The largest variation is as large as 100 square meters and takes up to 45 hours. [minutes] The smallest sail is just 3.5 square meters and deploys in just 0.8 seconds.

A passive drag system like this is not a completely new concept. According to NASAsuch devices represent the most common deorbit devices for satellites in low earth orbit, and have the advantage of being very easy to handle and very compact to store.

But what’s striking about ESA’s recent work on ADEO is that it seems to be working very well, consistent with its broader efforts to mitigate the huge problem of space junk. For example, last year the Federal Communications Commission adopted a new “five-year rule.” for deorbiting satelliteshas been declining over the last 25 years, with ESA itself a major initiative. address space pollution.

In a statement last year, ESA Executive Director Josef Aschbacher said: “We want to establish a zero-debris policy, which means that once a spacecraft is in orbit, it must be removed.

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