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Monday, November 26, 2012

Aerobrakes may curb future 'space junk'

Engineers at the University of Glasgow and Clyde Space Ltd have developed a practical solution to the increasing problem of space debris expected to be available next year.

Millions of pieces of ‘space junk' are orbiting the Earth as a side-effect of human exploration and exploitation of space. The pieces range from tiny fragments of bigger objects such as rocket boosters to full-sized pieces of now-defunct equipment. Working satellites and spacecraft can be damaged by collisions with debris, which can travel at velocities of several kilometres per second.
AEOLDOS is lightweight, foldable 'aerobrake' for CubeSats and small satellites. Once the spacecraft has reached the end of its operational life, the lightweight aerobrake, made from a thin membrane supported by tape measure-like struts, springs open to generate aerodynamic drag against the extremely thin upper atmosphere that still exists in near-Earth space.
As the satellite falls out of orbit the aerodynamic effects increase, causing the satellite to harmlessly burn up during its descent. This ensures that it does not become another piece of potentially harmful space debris.
AEOLDOS is an off-the-shelf standard product developed by the University of Glasgow and Clyde Space, and offered for sale by Clyde Space. Flight ready versions are expected to be available from the end of 2013, notes Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc.

Many amateur astronomers, like those associated with the University of Virginia's College at Wise, are looking to participate in a DARPA SpaceView program to track dangerous space junk in low earth orbit.

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