TechDemoSat-1 captures drag sail deployment

Technology designed to mitigate against the build up of space debris has been deployed and photographed on-board TechDemoSat-1.

Image acquired by the inspection camera on board TechDemoSat-1 showing the Icarus-1 sail deployed with a view of Earth beyond. The equipment top left is the satellite’s Antenna Pointing Mechanism (Credit SSTL)

An image showing the successful deployment of the de-orbit drag sail on the 150kg satellite has been released by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL).

The deployment of Cranfield University’s Icarus-1 drag sail marks the end of mission operations for SSTL’s TechDemoSat-1 small satellite which was launched into a 635km Low Earth Orbit in 2014.

Sarah Parker, Managing Director of SSTL, said “It is fantastic to see an image of TechDemoSat’s deployed drag sail captured by the onboard inspection camera.  This in-orbit image of a deployed drag sail on one of our satellites is a first for us and is a fitting culmination of mission operations for this highly innovative small satellite.”

TechDemoSat-1, an in-orbit technology demonstration small satellite mission, is said to have validated eight UK spacecraft instruments and software payloads and also acquired ocean wind speed datasets using GNSS reflectometry.

TechDemoSat-1 satellite during assembly at SSTL, 2013 (Credit: SSTL)

According to SSTL, the deployed sail measures approximately 6.7m2 and has been designed to significantly increase the spacecraft’s rate of orbital decay, in compliance with Space Debris Mitigation best practice and guidelines.

SSTL describe the Icarus-1 drag sail as consisting of a thin aluminium frame fitted around one of the external panels of the spacecraft in which four trapezoidal Kapton sails and booms are stowed and restrained by a cord. Deployment is achieved by activating cord-cutter actuators, allowing the stored energy in the spring hinges to unfold the booms and the sail.

The inspection camera on-board TechDemoSat-1 was manufactured by SSTL from COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) technologies and combines a colour CMOS camera with a high-performance machine vision lens delivering 1280×1024 resolution imagery and a field of view of 65×54 degrees.

TechDemoSat-1 was part-funded by Innovate UK and was jointly operated by SSTL in Guildford and by the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell.