Researchers from Purdue University are test-launching a first-of-its-kind drag sail to low-earth orbit to clean up space debris and defunct satellites crowding the upper atmosphere.
The drag sail is one of the first attempts attacking the increasing concern over debris crowding the upper atmosphere around the Earth. Developed over a year by a small team at Purdue, the Spinnaker3 sail helps pull debris from orbit by accelerating the decaying orbits and sending them towards the upper atmosphere to burn up safely.
The Earth is currently surrounded by the ever-growing number of “space junk” – defund satellites, discarded rocket parts, debris from collisions between such satellites, and more. The combined mass of the junk is estimated to be around 9000 tonnes.
According to NASA, only 1,700 satellites out of 4700 in orbit at an altitude between 90kms to 3000kms around the Earth are functional. But most satellites and large space debris take years and even decades for their orbits to decay enough to enter Earth’s atmosphere and safely burn up on re-entry.
There have been concerns raised over the possibility of this debris colliding with functional satellites and the chance of a minor collision triggering a massive chain reaction destroying Earth’s low orbit infrastructure.
Such an event was one of the main plot points of the 2013 Hollywood flick, Gravity.
Over the last 70 years, humans have been launching satellites and spacecraft into space, without much consideration for their sustainable disposal after their usage. In recent years, there have been increasing efforts to promote sustainable space exploration.
The launch is scheduled on September 4, at 6.30 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. IST, and will be live-streamed on YouTube/EverydayAstronaut.
Cover Photo: NASA