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Estonian mission will deploy ‘plasma brake’ to deorbit satellites faster

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Estonian mission will deploy 'plasma brake' to deorbit satellites faster


Estonia’s ESTCube-2 satellite is set for takeoff this week with an ambitious mission: the first demonstration of “plasma brake” technology to deorbit satellites faster and help reduce space debris.

To achieve this, ESTCube-2 will also for the first time use electric sail (or e-sail) technology. This is a type of tether devised by Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meterological Institute (FMI) as a propellant-free mechanism of exploring the Solar System.

The satellite’s e-sail is an interweaved aluminium tether line 50 metres in length. It’s made up of 50-micrometre wires, no bigger than the average human hair.

In low-Earth orbit, the charged tether will repel the nearly stationary plasma making up our planet’s ionosphere, creating a breaking effect. This will slow down the satellite enough for Earth’s gravity to pull it deeper into the atmosphere. Then, the atmospheric drag will eventually burn it up. The whole process would take less than two years.

satellite space