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ESA Announces In-flight Demonstration of ADEO Braking Sail

The ADEO Braking Sails in action. Credit: ESA

Ibadan, 31 January 2023. – The Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System (ADEO) breaking sail was successfully deployed from the ION satellite carrier in late December 2022. A sail area of 3.6 square meters autonomously deployed from a small packing size of 10 x 10 x 10 cm to demonstrate deorbiting satellite technology.

The sail provides a passive method of deorbiting by increasing the atmospheric surface drag effect on the spacecraft, resulting in an accelerated decay in its orbital altitude. The satellite will eventually burn up in the atmosphere, providing a quicker residue-free disposal method. ADEO gently pushes the ION satellite carrier out of its orbit and towards Earth’s atmosphere.

The ADEO mission is the final in-flight qualification test necessary to provide technological proof of concept. Before now, a smaller 2.5 square meter sail was fitted onto the upper stage of the Electron launch vehicle “Its Business Time” mission in 2018, and several parabolic flights occurred from 2019 to 2022.

ADEO technology provides a safe, robust, and sustainable method of passively deorbiting small satellites. Passive methods of deorbiting are beneficial in eliminating the need for active steering, with no additional GNS or propulsion subsystem. Furthermore, the system can fit designs for passive attitude stabilization, and the approach is applicable for non-operational and tumbling satellites.

Reliably removing satellites as they approach their system end-of-life or satellites that have become unresponsive is a crucial aspect of ESA’s Zero Debris Initiative. A consequence of such activity is that valuable orbits become available for use. Likewise, it reduces the probability of unwanted collision, preventing a space debris runoff.

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