The safe disposal of spacecraft upon mission completion is necessary to preserve the utility of high-value orbits. It is forecasted that up to 2,600 nanosatellites and microsatellites will be launched into orbit over the next five years, and plans for large commercial constellations consisting of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit are currently in development. NASA’s Small Satellite Technology Program (SSTP) develops and demonstrates new small spacecraft technologies and promotes the small spacecraft approach as a paradigm shift for NASA and the space community. These trends will drive the need for reliable deorbit systems. Vestigo Aerospace LLC plans to develop a product line of aerodynamically stable dragsails, to address the need for deorbit capability as an alternative to conventional propulsion systems.
Three innovations will result from this investigation, advancing the state of the art in dragsail systems: (1) The design of a square pyramid geometry for the dragsail that provides passive aerodynamic stability about the maximum drag orientation, improving the deorbit performance; (2) A scalable design for the dragsail with configurations that allow the deorbit of host satellites ranging from CubeSats to 400 kg small satellites; and (3) Targeted reentry using dragsails that can reduce the uncertainty on the reentry corridor and debris impact zone.
The Phase I investigation will result in analytical proof of concept for the dragsail system, and establish a conceptual design that will be fabricated at the breadboard level with key functionality demonstrated in the laboratory environment. Through this Phase I study, the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the square pyramid dragsail will be advanced from TRL 2 to TRL 4. The follow-on Phase II study will establish TRL 6 through a system prototype that will be environmentally tested and suitable for flight demonstration.
The dragsail systems developed through this investigation will be directly applicable for NASA spacecraft, including missions funded through the Small Satellite Technology Program (SSTP), the Earth Science Technology Program (ESTO), and Earth Venture missions. Vestigo Aerospace intends to develop a product line of dragsails for the deorbit of host satellites ranging from CubeSats to 400 kg small satellites, allowing deorbit within 25 years from initial altitudes up to 1,100 km.
The 2018 Nano/Microsat Market Forecast by SpaceWorks estimates that up to 2,600 nanosatellites and microsatellites will be launched into orbit over the next five years. Plans for large commercial constellations consisting of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit are currently in development by several private companies, providing robust demand for deorbit systems.