Spaceship desorbit device developed at Purdue ready for next test launch

UPDATE: The unmanned rocket carrying this drag sail exploded shortly after launching on September 2.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A trailing sail that a team from Purdue University developed to bring launchers back into space back to Earth is expected to undergo a test launch on Thursday (September 2).

The mission, which is slated to take off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, will assess how well the prototype helps its vehicle out of space once the mission is complete. A live stream of the launch will be available via Everyday astronaut.

Faster de-orbit times can prevent spacecraft and launchers from turning into dangerous space debris while waiting to naturally de-orbit, a process that could take days, months, or years without assistance. Abandoned, lost or post-mission space vehicles are part of the more than nine thousand tons of space debris currently traversing Earth’s lower orbit at dangerous speeds.

Deorbiting technology is a preventative approach to managing the growth of space debris, a problem that NASA has recognized as being essential for the future safe space exploration.

Named Spinnaker3, the trailing sail will roll on a rocket of Firefly Aerospace as well as six other prototypes to test. The launch is part of Firefly’s DREAM Mission, carrying educational payloads into orbit.

Ph.D. Purdue candidate Arly Black (front) and lab engineer Anthony Cofer test sail deployment for Spinnaker3. (Photo by Purdue University / David Spencer) Download Image

The plan is for the drag sail to specifically desorbit the upper stage of the Firefly launcher. The developers expect the Spinnaker3 to reduce the vehicle’s upper stage desorbiting process by 25 to 15 days.

The trailing sail was produced by a team of students, faculty and staff at Purdue’s Space flight projects laboratory. The team devoted a year to design and development, and lab tests were completed in the spring. The development took place under the leadership of David spencer, Purdue Assistant Associate Professor of aeronautics and astronautics.

Spencer is also mission leader for the Mars Sample Return Campaign to NASA Jet propulsion laboratory in California and founder of Vestigo Aérospatiale SARL, a start-up producing a full range of prototype Spinnaker trailing sails for various sizes of space vehicles. The Purdue Research Foundation license the technology, and Spencer worked with the Purdue Foundry on developing the startup’s business model.

The Spinnaker3, named for the three-meter length of its carbon fiber arrows, climbs outside the top stage of the launcher. The poles were provided by NASA Langley Research Center as part of a NASA Space Act agreement with Purdue. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo provided the avionics for the Spinnaker3 payload and assisted in the testing and installation of Spinnaker3 on the Firefly rocket.

The sail will deploy at the end of the rocket mission and use atmospheric drag to aid in the desorbiting process. When fully deployed, the sail measures 194 square feet and is made of CP1, a fluorinated polyimide developed by a high performance materials designer NeXolve. An animation of the deployment of the sail is available online.

Images of the trailing sail while in space will be captured by a camera mounted on the upper stage of the Firefly launcher. The vehicle’s desorbit schedule will be assessed based on tracking data provided by United States Space Command.

More details on the launch are available here.

About Purdue University

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Media contact: Kayla Wiles, 765-494-2432, [email protected]

Writer: Christy mccarter

Sources: David Spencer, Purdue Assistant Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Anthony Cofer, director of the Purdue spacecraft laboratory
Arly Black, Purdue Ph.D. candidate in aeronautics and astronautics

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