The first experimental flight of the PW-Sat2 microsatellite has minor problems. The deorbiting sail built by students of the Warsaw University of Technology was a bit off. One of the project coordinators, Artur Łukasik, reassures that it will not significantly affect the course of the entire test.
Before we go into details, let me remind you what it's all about. The deorbiting sail is an idea of students of the Warsaw University of Technology , which in the future can help us solve the problem with the remains of satellites that are in orbit.
Until now, more than 8000 satellites have been orbited, of which about 1900 are currently in operation. Among other objects orbiting the Earth are parts of rockets, shuttle shell pieces, rockets from Apollo missions, or 32 nuclear reactors that fed the satellites.
All these cosmic garbage threatens not only the existing satellites, but also the International Space Station. Faster disposal of this type of residue will also reduce the possibility of satellite collisions in orbit. Such an event took place on February 10, 2009, when as a result of the collision of satellites Iridium 33 and Kosmos 2251, over 600 different debris were created.
The experiment developed by the students is based on the use of a square deorbitation sail with an area of 4m², which can be folded in a volume of approx. 600 ml (or 25 percent of the entire satellite). After PW-Sat2 has been raised into orbit, the sail has been opened and the aerodynamic resistance generated by it will cause a drastic reduction in the orbit, and consequently the burning of the satellite in the Earth's atmosphere within a few months. At least that was the plan until a minor glitch occurred.
The deorbiting sail was damaged
Some information services suggested that the sail damage resulted from contact with space debris, which would be a rather ironic twist of fate. Artur Łukasik, one of the deputy coordinators of the whole project, calms that the probability of such a scenario is extremely small.
We noticed the damage of the sail about 3 days after the launch of the satellite. According to our most probable theory, they were caused by the difference in thermal expansion between the structure and the sail material, which caused the sail to become excessively tense, which in the situation of even the tiniest micro-damage could lead to tearing of the material. Our sail enters the Earth eclipse 14 times a day, which causes it to cool down, then it is heated back by the Sun, so this material works in quite difficult conditions. Of course, this is a working hypothesis for now, but according to our team this is the most likely scenario explaining the occurrence of these lesions. - says Łukasik.
The team responsible for the whole project estimates that about 40 percent. the surface of the sail has been damaged. Fortunately, this will not affect the mission's main objective, that is, to bring the satellite into the lower parts of the atmosphere, where it will be destroyed. Less aerodynamic resistance due to sail damage will delay this process a little, but not enough for any of the band to worry about it.
I also remind you that this is the first test of the sail, so its designers from the outset counted on the fact that not everything goes according to plan. I doubt, however, that this tiny slip would scare away potential investors. The PW-Sat2 team plans to present their sail in the first half of 2019 at a conference organized by the European Space Agency (ESA). It will be the largest meeting of the space industry in Europe and a great opportunity to establish cooperation with potential investors and satellite producers.
The deorbiting sail will help us solve the problem of space debris
Space agencies have been mentioning for some time about the necessity of introducing new regulations regarding the use of Earth's orbit. One of such ideas is the introduction of a solution that would allow removing the satellite from it after the mission. Polish students could not choose a better time to present their invention, which they are currently trying to patent.
Initially, it is estimated that 1,500 new satellites will appear in orbit in the coming years. In a complete case they will be very similar to PW-Sat2. It would be good if they were equipped with a system that would allow them to be brought to Earth. We are talking about a market whose value in 2016 was estimated at 345 billion dollars and which will soon be in demand for something like a deorbiting sail. As I wrote - a great sense of time. And these minor problems? It's good that they occurred during the first flight. The next version of the sail will be deprived of them.
Easy, it's just a minor failure. The Polish deorbiting sail did not withstand the tension and took a little