ESA Successfully Deploys Sail to Reduce Spacecraft’s Orbit

The European Space Agency

In a major success, the European Space Agency (ESA) has deployed a sail from a used cubesat to reduce its orbital altitude and bring it down to Earth’s atmosphere. The Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System (ADEO) was launched from an Ion satellite carrier in late December 2022.

The 38.7-square-foot (3.6 square meters) aluminum-coated polyamide membrane sail is designed to increase the atmospheric surface drag effect and cause an accelerated decay in the satellite’s orbital altitude, according to an ESA statement. The sail was deployed from a package measuring 3.93 by 3.93 by 3.93 inches (10 by 10 by 10 centimeters).

The satellite will eventually burn up in the atmosphere, providing a quicker, residue-free method of disposal, according to ESA. The unfurling process was captured by an integrated camera onboard the Ion satellite carrier, which is operated by the Italian company D-Orbit.

The ADEO test article is designed especially for deorbiting small satellites weighing between 2.2 and 220 pounds (1 to 100 kilograms). This is the final ADEO in-flight qualification test required to demonstrate the technological proof of concept. ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher tweeted that the test was a “positive contribution towards ESA’s Zero Debris Initiative,” which aims to remove all European satellites from valuable orbits around Earth once their missions are completed.

The ADEO-N2 sail is part of D-Orbit’s “Wild Ride” Ion mission, which launched on SpaceX’s Transporter 2 flight in June 2021. The ADEO activity was funded by ESA’s General Support Technology Programme and was implemented by HPS (Germany) and its subsidiary in Romania.

The European mission, named “Show Me Your Wings,” is a successful step towards reducing space debris. It is a passive method of deorbiting and provides a quicker, residue-free method of disposal. China similarly tested a 269-square-foot (25 square m) drag sail last year to help deorbit a payload adapter sooner than otherwise possible. The largest version of the ADEO drag sail is 1076 square feet (100 square m).