InflateSail de-orbit flight demonstration results and follow-on drag-sail applications

Craig Underwood, Andrew D. Viquerat, Mark Schenk, Ben Taylor, Chiara Massimiani, Richard Duke, Brian Stewart, Simon Fellowes, Chris Bridges, Guglielmo Aglietti, Berry Sanders, Davide Masutti, Amandine Denis

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper

340 Downloads (Pure)


The InflateSail (QB50-UK06) CubeSat, designed and built at the Surrey Space Centre (SSC) for the Von Karman Institute (VKI), Belgium, was one of the technology demonstrators for the European Commission’s QB50 programme. The 3.2 kg 3U CubeSat was equipped with a 1 metre long inflatable mast and a 10m2 deployable drag sail. InflateSail's primary mission was to demonstrate the effectiveness of using a drag sail in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to dramatically increase the rate at which satellites lose altitude and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and it was one of 31 satellites that were launched simultaneously on the PSLV (polar satellite launch vehicle) C-38 from Sriharikota, India on 23rd June 2017 into a 505km, 97.44o Sun-synchronous orbit.
Shortly after safe deployment in orbit, InflateSail automatically activated its payload. Firstly, it inflated its metre-long metal-polymer laminate tubular mast, and then activated a stepper motor to extend four lightweight bi-stable rigid composite (BRC) booms from the end of the mast, so as to draw out the 3.1m x 3.1m square, 12m thick polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) drag-sail. As intended, the satellite immediately began to lose altitude, causing it to re-enter the atmosphere just 72 days later – thus successfully demonstrating for the first time the de-orbiting of a spacecraft using European inflatable and drag-sail technologies.
The InflateSail project was funded by two European Commission Framework Program Seven (FP7) projects: DEPLOYTECH and QB50. DEPLOYTECH had eight European partners including DLR, Airbus France, RolaTube, Cambridge University, and was assisted by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. DEPLOYTECH’s objectives were to advance the technological capabilities of three different space deployable technologies by qualifying their concepts for space use. QB50 was a programme, led by VKI, for launching a network of 50 CubeSats built mainly by university teams all over the world to perform first-class science in the largely unexplored lower thermosphere.
The boom/drag-sail technology developed by SSC will next be used on a third FP7 Project: RemoveDebris, launched in 2018, which will demonstrate the capturing and de-orbiting of artificial space debris targets using a net and harpoon system. This paper describes the results of the InflateSail mission, including the observed effects of atmospheric density and solar activity on its trajectory and body dynamics. It also describes the application of the technology to RemoveDebris and its potential as a commercial de-orbiting add-on package for future space missions.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
Publication statusUnpublished - 4 Oct 2018
Event69th International Astronautical Congress 2018 - Bremen, Germany
Duration: 1 Oct 20185 Oct 2018


Conference69th International Astronautical Congress 2018
Abbreviated titleIAC 2018

Structured keywords

  • Bristol Composites Institute ACCIS


Dive into the research topics of 'InflateSail de-orbit flight demonstration results and follow-on drag-sail applications'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this