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[Earth] Scientists Are Going To Attempt To Drag Space Junk Back To Earth

Scientists Are Going To Attempt To Drag Space Junk Back To Earth

A drag sail made to pull launch vehicles from space back to Earth is scheduled to undergo a test launch on Thursday. The drag sail was produced by a group of students, researchers, and engineers at Purdue University Illinois. The drag sail took a year to develop and test and is aiming to help clean up the Earth’s outer atmosphere. A pleasant side effect will be easing the stress on private launch companies and NASA, as space debris can impact future launches of satellites as well as crewed missions.

Space debris is a growing problem for the private launch sector with more than 9,000 tons of junk orbiting our planet and just 1,700 satellites out of 4700 in orbit around Earth still functional. Decreasing the time it takes for defunct satellites and other debris to deorbit will help ease the stress off of NASA and other space agencies, as the material can become hazardous as it naturally deorbits over the course of months or even years.

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Space debris is comprised of disused satellites, pieces of former launch gear for rockets, or abandoned space vehicles. NASA scientist Donald Kessler predicted that with constant collisions between larger pieces of debris in Earth orbit, humanity’s telecommunication satellites and capabilities could become damaged and hinder our exploration of space. Deorbiting technology could be the solution to this problem.

The Spinnaker3 drag sail is designed to slow space junk down, at which point Earth’s gravity does the rest of the work and pulls the trash into Earth’s atmosphere where it is destroyed. The module will be attached to the outside of the upper stage of the Firefly rocket that will be flown into orbit. After reaching the edge of the atmosphere it will deorbit the upper stage of the Firefly vehicle reducing the deorbiting process by up to 25 days.

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This is all part of Firefly’s ‘DREAM’ mission, taking educational payloads into orbit. To deorbit the debris the Spinnacker3 will deploy a sail made from CP1, a fluorinated polyimide. It will then use the sail to drag the upper stage of the rocket back to Earth.

Cleaning Up Space Is Tricky

Cleaning Up Space Is Tricky
[Earth] Scientists Are Going To Attempt To Drag Space Junk Back To Earth 3

Other ways scientists have tried to deorbit space debris include the AuroraSat-1 CubeSat developed by Aurora Propulsion Technologies. This is a satellite, as opposed to a built-in module of a new spacecraft like Spinnacker3, and it roams the atmosphere, safely moving preexisting space debris back into the Earth’s orbit so it can be destroyed. The AuroraSat-1 and the Spinnacker3 represent some of the creative ways scientists are approaching the issue of space debris.

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The launch of the Firefly will be available to watch on Everyday Astronaut. Photos of the operation will be available online after the deorbiting module is successful thanks to its inbuilt camera. The success of the mission will be gauged by US Space Command who will be monitoring the tracking data and descent of the upper stage of the Firefly rocket.

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