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Space Flight Laboratory Announces Successful Deorbiting of a Nanosatellite with Drag Sail Technology – Parabolic Arc

TORONTO, Ontario, Canada (RP Space Flight Laboratory) – Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) announced the successful de-orbiting of the 3.5 kg CanX-7 demonstration nanosatellite using trailing sail technology designed to reduce the time that the removed small satellites spend in orbit as space junk . CanX-7 burned up in Earth’s atmosphere in April, just five years after the dragging sail deployed and about 178 years before it did so without any deorbit technology.

“The SFL drag sail technology developed for nano- and microsatellites is one of the only commercially viable deorbiting devices available today, outside of propulsion,” said SFL Director Dr. Robert E. Zee . “The drag sails performed better than expected, deorbiting CanX-7 in much less time than the maximum target of 25 years recommended by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).”

CanX-7 was a 10 x 10 x 34 cm nanosatellite built by SFL and funded by Defense Research and Development Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, COM DEV Ltd. and the Canadian Space Agency. The satellite was launched in September 2016 with a dual mission to demonstrate automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) message collection from space for aircraft global situational awareness and then test the technology of deorbit developed by SFL.

SFL deployed the four drag sails – each approximately one square meter in area – on May 4, 2017, with the aim of decreasing the ballistic coefficient of the nanosatellite and using atmospheric drag to accelerate orbital decay. Mission participants observed an almost immediate change in the rate of altitude decay and continued to track the rate of orbital decay until CanX-7 reentered the atmosphere on April 21, 2022.

“Orbital debris is a big concern for the space industry, and the passive deorbiting technology demonstrated on CanX-7 is a beneficial solution for nano and microsatellites,” said Brad Cotten, SFL’s CanX-7 mission manager. . “The mission verified that SFL’s lightweight drag-sail technology is a more cost-effective and less complex method for deorbiting smaller satellites than traditional propulsion techniques.”

Additionally, deorbit technology allows nano and microsatellites to be launched into a wider range of orbits than would be possible if relying on natural orbital decay, Cotten explained.

Participants in the CanX-7 project hailed the successful completion of the mission, which is the first Canadian satellite to be de-orbited independently by controlled atmospheric re-entry.

According to Dr. Lauchie Scott, Defense Scientist at Defense Research and Development Canada, the CanX-7 trailing sail deployment campaign provided a very rare opportunity to observe a satellite dramatically changing shape and size while being followed by ground-based telescopes. This view showed the nanosatellite’s luminosity signature during sail deployment and how its rotational motion evolved as the longer-term space durability deorbit experiment continued.

Dr. Scott added that this was an exceptional Canadian collaboration to help mitigate the risks associated with space debris.

According to Dr. Brad Wallace, Defense Scientist at Defense Research and Development Canada, the project has successfully proven that UTIAS/SFL’s innovative drag-sail technology can de-orbit a spacecraft decades faster than what would have happened otherwise and demonstrated Canada’s continued leadership not only in space technology, but also in the responsible stewardship of space. He added that lessons learned from the CanX-7 mission will be used to help minimize the number of inoperative spacecraft orbiting the Earth, thereby ensuring that space continues to be used for the benefit of Canadians and peoples all over the world.

SFL is a unique microspace provider that offers a full suite of nano, micro and small satellites – including high-performance, low-cost CubeSats – that meet the needs of a wide range of mission types from 3 to 500 kilograms. Dating back to 1998, SFL’s heritage includes 61 operational successes and 31 under construction or awaiting launch. These missions relate to Earth observation, atmospheric monitoring, ship tracking, communication, radio frequency (RF) geolocation, technology demonstration, space astronomy, solar physics, space plasma and others. scientific research.

In 24 years of history, SFL has developed CubeSats, nanosatellites and microsatellites which total more than 194 cumulative years of operation in orbit. These microspace missions have included SFL’s reliable attitude control and, in some cases, formation flying capabilities. Other core components developed by SFL include modular (scalable) power systems, on-board radios, flight computers and control software.

About the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) (

SFL generates greater returns from smaller, less expensive satellites. The small satellites built by SFL constantly push the limits of performance and disrupt the traditional cost paradigm. The satellites are built with advanced power systems, tight attitude control, and high-volume data capability that are remarkable on the budget. SFL organizes launches globally and maintains a mission control center with access to ground stations around the world. SFL’s pioneering, barrier-breaking work is a key enabler for tomorrow’s cost-aggressive satellites and constellations. (