Satellite aerobrake bid to cut junk
Published 20/11/2012 | 17:49
After more than five decades of sending satellites into orbit, outer space has become a little cluttered.
Now, 55 years on from the launch of Sputnik, scientists have developed a way to help humans clear up after themselves.
Engineers have created a device which attaches to satellites and burns them up once they have served their purpose.
It is hoped the "aerobrake" will put an end to the increasing amount of space junk orbiting the Earth, some of which can travel at speeds of several kilometres per second.
They often collide, creating more debris, and working satellites and spacecraft can be damaged by coming into contact with the fragments.
Patrick Harkness, of Glasgow University's School of Engineering, led the development of AEOLDOS (Aerodynamic End Of Life Deorbit System).
He said: "It's only been 55 years since Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, was sent into orbit, but since then we've managed to make quite a mess of the space around our planet.
"The rate at which we're putting objects into orbit is accelerating each year, which is why it's vital for us to take more control over how they can be removed from orbit once they have served their purpose."
The foldable device can be added to small satellites, known as CubeSats, before they go into orbit.
When the CubeSat reaches the end of its operational life, the aerobrake springs open to generate aerodynamic drag against the thin upper atmosphere. As the satellite falls out of orbit this effect increases, causing it to burn up.