The magnetic sail, or magsail, is a new technology that can be used for deorbiting spacecraft. In the magsail deorbiting system, a loop of aluminum or copper wire is deployed at the end of life of an Earth orbiting spacecraft, and energized with an electric current, producing a magnetic field. The magnetic field forces the wire into a circular loop, and creates a small magnetosphere around the spacecraft. This magnetosphere in tern then creates drag against the ambient plasma surrounding the Earth, causing the spacecraft to deorbit. For typical configurations, the magsail wire mass required to create a drag area of a given size is two orders of magnitude less than that needed using solar sail or any other physical material. In addition to being a uniquely advantageous technology for LEO spacecraft deorbiting, the normal-conducting magsail can serve as a precursor technology to superconducting magsails capable of generating sufficient field to effectively propel interplanetary spacecraft using the momentum flux of the solar wind. In the proposed program, the potential performance of the magsail deorbiting system will be analyzed, design options compared, deployment and operation simulated, and the concept validated by means of computer analysis and laboratory tests.
Magsails using normal conductors can lower spacecraft orbits around Earth, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Titan, Uranus or Neptune Magsails could be used to enable reusable orbit transfer vehicles or TLI stages to return to LEO without requiring either the expenditure of propellant or aerobraking. Advanced superconducting magsails could be used to deliver NASA space probes to interplanetary destinations, provide shielding against solar flares, or to decelerate very fast interstellar spacecraft without the expenditure of propellant.
Magsails using normal conductors can be used to create drag against Earth’s ionosphere, enabling the deorbiting of commercial and military satellites with a very low mass system. Magsails could be used to deorbit GTO stages or enable reusable orbit transfer vehicles to return to LEO without requiring either the expenditure of propellant or aerobraking.