Apr 042010


We’ve looked at the problem of orbiting space junk before and the threat it poses to the future of space exploration and the use of satellites.

Now scientists have devised a miniature “nanosatellite” fitted with a “solar sail” that can be used on satellites or upper stage launch vehicles. Once the equipment that has reached the end of its mission, the solar sails can be deployed to successfully achieve de-orbit. While it won’t cut the amount of debris already whizzing around above our heads, it will help stop future missions adding to the problem.

As a result of 50 years of abandoning spacecraft there is believed to be more than 5,500 tonnes of debris cluttering space around the planet and posing a threat to hugely expensive technology as well as unmanned and manned spacecraft. To help mitigate the build-up of debris – which is expected to grow at a rate of five percent a year – the “CubeSail” would deploy to act as an “aerobrake”. Friction between the sail and the thin atmosphere would slow the debris down so that it de-orbits and burn up in the atmosphere – a process that can take more than 100 years normally.

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