China tests Drag Sail to eliminate space waste

China tests Drag Sail to eliminate space waste

This kite-shaped space sail will help deorbit a rocket component within two years.

This kite-shaped space sail will help deorbit a rocket component within two years.
Image: Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology

Eengineers in china successfully deployed an ultra-thin sail attached to a rocket part to speed up its departure from low Earth orbit and reduce the amount of space debris floating aimlessly above our planet.

The 269 square foot (25 square meter) sail unfurled after the launch of a Long March 2D rocket on June 24. Although the mission was not announced beforehand, the Shanghai Academy of Spacecraft Technology (SAST) announcement days later that the drag sail had been successfully deployed to aid in the deorbiting of the rocket component, which won’t happen for about two years.

Once deployed, the shaped kite navigate increase atmospheric drag working against the object to which it is attached, thus accelerating orbital decay. The rocket component will then meet its fate much sooner, de-orbiting and burning in Earth’s atmosphere on its way down. It’s a potential down-cost solution for the ever-increasing problem of space debris.

The recently launched drag sail is made from a super thin material, roughly the same thickness as one tenth the diameter of a human hair. The component it’s currently attached to, the rocket’s upper stage payload adapter, weighs about 661 pounds (300 kilograms) and orbits Earth at an altitude of about 305 miles (491 kilometers), according to SAST. The rocket is expected to be driven to lower altitudes with increased friction from sailing and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in about two years.

China was a bit reckless lately during the deorbit of its rockets. In April, debris probably caused by a Chinese rocket that disintegrated on re-entry came across a village in western India. Similarly in May 2021, a Chinese Long March 5B rocket crashes into Indian Ocean after having made an uncontrolled re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere. A year earlier in May 2020, another incoming Long March 5B rocket cause debris fell on two villages in Côte d’Ivoire, damaging homes.

The drag sail will help pull the rocket out of Earth orbit sooner than it would have done on its own, but it’s unclear whether China will consider where pieces of the rocket could fall in order to avoid populated areas.

It is hoped that the new technology will help clear space debris from orbit. The Department of Defense’s Global Space Surveillance Network is currently tracking more than 27,000 pieces of orbital debris, and many other smaller pieces in the near-Earth environment, according at NASA. Ideally, as countries continue to expand their space programs, they will also find a way to deorbit their spacecraft not only faster, but also in a less harmful way.

After: The coolest images taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *