China begins testing orbital drag parachute

(ORDO NEWS) — The Shanghai Academy of Space Technology reported on the start of a previously unannounced experiment. On the recently launched Long March 2D rocket, Chinese engineers placed a test device for accelerated deorbiting of space debris – a kind of brake parachute, or sail.

As part of the 60th flight of Long March-2D (CZ-2D), three satellites of the Yaogan-35 series (second group) were launched into an orbit with a height of about 500 kilometers on June 23.

Their purpose is officially described as vehicles for “conducting experiments, performing exploration of the earth’s resources, assessing agricultural crops and tasks to reduce the negative effects of natural disasters.”

In other words, these are Earth remote sensing devices. According to indirect data, satellites of sub -series A and B are optical reconnaissance vehicles, and sub-series C are radar.

A couple of weeks after the successful launch, it turned out that the mission carried an additional payload. According to the Space.com portal , citing the Shanghai Academy of Space Technology ( SAST ), a day after the separation of the Yaogan-35 vehicles, the deployment of a braking parachute began.

It is located on the payload adapter and consists of several foil petals on telescopic rails. The total sail area is about 25 square meters.

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Unfolded “space sail” on the payload adapter of the CZ-2D rocket

According to the calculations of the mission engineers, the device should lead to the fact that the structure with a total mass of about 300 kilograms will enter the dense layers of the atmosphere in two years.

As a control object for the experiment, the upper stage CZ-2D is used – its trajectory at the end of work does not differ too much from that of the payload adapter.

And the latter, due to the presence of a sail, should lose height much faster and spend in space not the usual five to ten years for an orbit of such a height, but much less.

For space enthusiasts, there is an easy way to follow the progress of the experiment. The payload adapter, on which the sail is unfolded, and the second stage of the rocket are tracked separately by ground controls.

Their international identifiers ( COSPAR ID ) are 2022-068E and 2022-068D respectively. Now the orbital parameters of both objects are approximately the same (486 by 496 kilometers and an inclination of 35 degrees), but in such a short period of time a noticeable difference could not appear. But in six months, the height of 2022-068E should be several kilometers lower.

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Unfolded “space sail” on the payload adapter of the CZ-2D rocket

In the following months, the decline will accelerate until the object reaches an altitude of 170-200 kilometers. The lifetime of the payload adapter will be measured in days, with a maximum of weeks.

It should be noted that this is far from the first experiment on accelerated de-orbiting of man-made objects by increasing the surface area of ​​the device.

The earth’s atmosphere extends much higher than the conditional boundary of space – the Karman line. It is extremely rarefied, but it still affects any bodies orbiting the planet. The degree of this influence directly depends on the surface area of ​​the object and its density.

For example, the International Space Station rotates its giant solar panels parallel to its course on each orbit when it enters the Earth’s shadow to reduce drag on the atmosphere. And it still drops by about 90 meters every day, which leads to mandatory orbit corrections every few months.

Of all the methods of cleaning near-Earth space from man-made debris, mechanisms for increasing the surface area of ​​spacecraft seem to be the most preferable. In most cases, it is cheap (both in terms of mass and cost of implementation), simple and reliable, and does not require the satellite to be operable to function.

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