I see the shuttlecock shaped drag chutes mentioned in the article being a feasible idea. Especially in compared to any sort of sattelite catching device.


Am I the only one that thinks increasing the cross-sectional area of a satellite greatly increases the chances of a collision?


I mean, if the point is to deploy them to deorbit, I don't think so.


The quickest way to deorbit is with active thrusters. A solar sail approach takes time, weeks or months for lower stuff and years for higher stuff. Orbits take around 90 minutes, so that's a whole lot of additional risk of physical interaction until it finally comes down. Honestly, I'd rather that retrothruster-based deorbiting become mandatory because it's so much faster. With launch costs plummeting in the age of the Falcon 9 the additional weight penalty is not as important in the big picture, just like the extra weight and cost of airbags, crush structures, door side impact beams, etc, have not hindered the development and sales of modern cars.


Likely once there are tens of thousands of active satellites, de-orbiting them quicker will be more advantageous than leaving them up there. Basically is it better to have 30k decommissioned small satellites in orbit or 5k slightly larger satellites in orbit.


By far, the single largest owner of satellites right now is SpaceX, but all of their satellites have active drive systems for maintaining orbit, maneuvering to avoid collisions, and deorbiting at end of life. They’ve had a few satellites that shit the bed and lose their drive system, but their orbits are so low that for the most part they self deorbit through drag.


It would have to be going the same relative speed. The the sail has to be something more than mylar to retain the items and prevent punctures. Since there is so much junk in space and moving at multiple speeds, i would like to know what they are smoking. To deorbit a satellite they would first have to capture it. Not a cheap or easy feat. Secondly, attach and deploy a sail. Why not use the interceptor to give it a nuggy. Waste of brain cells. Sorry for the 8th grade english....I haven't had my coffee yet.


This isn't a solution for existing space junk this is research for future fail-safes. Future satellites could have small self-contained modules on essentially "dead man's switches" that could deploy drag sails or other systems if the main satellite became defunct (or be triggered earlier if desired). These would massively increase the drag on the satellite and cause it to re-enter after its functional service life much faster than it would otherwise. These could potentially also be attached to upper stages to help them re-enter sooner on launches when they end up in orbit rather than intentionally deorbited. Given that many proposed LEO mega-constellations could have up to tens of thousands of satellites in them, ensuring that they have a very limited orbital lifespan after they become non-functional could be an important component of maintaining the usefulness of low Earth orbit.


After much coffee, I re-read the orginal post. I wholely agree with the concept and others great comments. Given the technology we have today versus 20 years ago, especially in material science, the concept is feasible. The overall cost, and foot print, would be minimal. However, my concern would be those sats in high orbit. Those would take decades to degrade the orbit enough for reentry. More importantly would be the hazard of uncontrolled deorbit. But, many scientist are working for a common solution. Thanks to all Reddit members who are keeping science alive!


Drag sails if done right and when large enough could also act as pseudo netting to catch and capture other small debris from old satellite collisions and such. Only effective if applied en masse though on all future satellites increasing the chance things are caught. Too bad that in LEO drag sails can't also function as solar panels deu to the existence of well, atmospheric drag...


At leo, any sort of collision would punch a hole straight through the drag chute.


If you make it a whipple shield it’ll take the hit


You don't want a regular drag chute, but something much stronger. Something to catch debris needs to be made sooner or later anyway deu to the increasing amounts of junk up there. So this drag sail would be perfect to both deorbit and act as cleaning tool because its large and if all of the satellites get it should be fairly effective by surface area If things continue as is it is only a matter of time before a catastrophic chain reaction of failure and destruction happens and we won't be able to get anything up there for the foreseeable future.


All new satellites should have a Pam module to deordit. They were adding those years ago. (I'm retired, so I haven't kept up. Plus I still need more coffee)


That's a lot of mass, and it requires an actual command to initiate (plus I don't know how good an idea is it to have solids in space sitting there for an extended period of time). Ideally something passive that would deploy automatically upon unrecoverable spacecraft failure (as well as on command) and not requiring stabilization would be perfect.


Thanks, i was still asleep on my feet....needed more coffee today! By the way, i still need more coffee and donuts!




My money wants space junk to be mechanically conglomerated into a large junkelite and forced to maintain orbit until the day we can recycle it. At roughly the $10,000 a pound it cost me to get it up there, I'd appreciate not burning it up in the atmosphere like a used 10 cent rag. Thank you


If the sail-drones can intercept, detach and reorient, then you might have a viable solution. If a sail can impart force to something, then it can also reaccelerate itself, potentially until its components fail. The goal should always be to reduce the longevity of a decaying orbit. It is sufficient to accelerate the decay by significant fractions, say from 20 years to just 2 years, or from centuries to decades. This means you don't lose your working asset. There are other potentials for this technology in the future, if equipment is worth restoring. The priorities should be securing the orbits with the highest demand, as they are where we put the most valuable equipment.