The European Space Agency (ESA) successfully deployed a braking sail designed to deorbit a small satellite, according to a release.
The sail is called the Drag Augmentation Deorbiting System (ADEO), and it was launched to orbit in late December 2022 as part of a mission called "Show Me Your Wings."
According to ESA, the demonstrator technology is attached to a CubeSat, allowing it to deorbit in a matter of months rather than the years it would otherwise take. It forms a part of its wider plans to reduce the amount of space debris accumulating in orbit.
ESA successfully tests CubeSat braking sail
The "Show Me Your Wings" mission is the ADEO system's final in-flight qualification test. ADEO is a 38.7-square-foot (3.6 square meters) aluminum-coated polyamide membrane sail.
It bears a striking resemblance to the Planetary Society's LightSail 2, which utilized sunlight for propulsion in a world first. However, ESA makes no mention of flight by light. Instead, its braking sail passively increases atmospheric drag, causing an accelerated decay in the CubeSat's orbital altitude.
Ultimately, this will allow operators to deorbit satellites faster once their mission is complete, meaning they will burn up in Earth's atmosphere rather than floating in orbit as space debris for long periods. The ADEO test system was designed to deorbit small satellites weighing between 2.2 and 220 pounds (1 to 100 kilograms). However, ESA explains that the sail can be scaled up to deorbit larger satellites.
Space sail technology to tackle space debris problem
In a tweet last week, ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher wrote that the demonstration was a "positive contribution towards ESA's Zero Debris Initiative."