It is calculated that only 1,950 of these satellites continue operational, whereas the rest become space debris. These now-defunct satellites are united by thousands of fractions of debris, which are together referred to as “space junk.”
And this space junk is a huge issue as there is no way to safely get this garbage out of space.
However, on Wednesday, the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology declared that Chinese scientists successfully spread out a drag sail to deorbit a newly launched Long March 2 rocket. The event marked the first time such an experiment was conducted with a missile.
The drag sail is a kite-like layer that measures 25 sq meters when completely unfurled. It’s also hardly one-tenth the diameter of a human hair in thickness which didn’t stop it from oncencing the atmospheric drag and accelerating the orbital decay of the 300kg rocket’s last stage.
Drag sails provide a low-cost and mature technology solution that can be utilized on any low-Earth orbit satellite that has transformed into space debris. As they are highly flexible and lightweight, they can be folded into a tiny package and placed on a spacecraft before the launch.
Once it’s close to the debris, they unfold automatically, helping to send the spacecraft back to the atmosphere, where it will disintegrate. Drag sails are a much speedier alternative than letting junk deorbit naturally, which may require years or decades.