The DESCENT Mission: Using Metallic Tape to Deorbit Spacecraft at the End of Their Useful Life
There are a large number of inoperable spacecraft and debris from past space missions orbiting the Earth that pose a significant risk to current and new satellite missions. The high relative velocities of objects orbiting Earth mean that a collision with even a small piece of debris can have a very large impact on an operational spacecraft. With the new advent of large numbers of smaller, cheaper microsatellites, cubesats and nano-/picosatellites, new technologies are needed to provide an easy, low-cost method for deorbiting spacecraft at the end of their useful missions.
York’s DESCENT mission aims to demonstrate one such technology- the electrodynamic tether. Designed to deorbit a dishwasher-sized spacecraft from a “low-Earth orbit” of up to 850 kilometres, the DESCENT mission aims to demonstrate how a simple metallic tape can be used to generate a “Lorentz force” that can be used for deorbiting a satellite. The mission, being developed by York and Ryerson Universities, supported by Honeywell and the Canadian Space Agency’s FAST program, and carrying other international payloads, is due to be launched early to mid-2019, and will give York the opportunity to prove a technology that may be able to help clean up space in future.
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