Design and Development of a Gossamer Sail System for Deorbiting in Low Earth Orbit

J. M. Fernandez, L. Visagie, Mark Schenk, O. R. Stohlmann, G. S. Aglietti, V. J. Lappas, S. O. Erb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


The accumulation of space debris in low Earth orbits poses an increasing threat of collisions and damage to spacecraft. As a low-cost solution to the space debris problem the Gossamer Deorbiter proposed herein is designed as a scalable stand-alone system that can be attached to a low-to-medium mass host satellite for end-of-life disposal from low Earth orbit. It consists of a 5 m by 5 m square solar/drag sail that uses four bistable carbon fiber booms for deployment and support. Prior to deployment of the gossamer structure, a telescopic enclosure system is used to displace the sail from the host craft in order to extend the sail without hindrance from the host peripherals, and also provide passive stabilization. The principal advantage of an entirely passive operational mode allows the drag augmentation system to act as a “fail-safe” device that would activate if the spacecraft suffers a catastrophic failure. Several scenarios are analyzed to study the potential application and performance of the system to current and future missions. A detailed breakdown of the mechanical subsystems of the Gossamer Deorbiter is presented, as well as the characterization process of the deployable booms and sail membrane and the full qualification testing campaign at component and system levels. Finally, the performance scalability of the concept is analyzed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-225
JournalActa Astronautica
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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