28 October 2010 – SFL will be developing a nanosatellite mission targeted at demonstrating new deorbiting technology for satellites in low Earth orbit. The CanX-7 satellite, funded by Defense R&D Canada (Ottawa), NSERC, and COM DEV, will demonstrate the effectiveness of lightweight drag sail technology under development at SFL. The purpose of the drag sail is to cause the satellite to deorbit within the 25-year post-mission lifetime limit recommended by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC). Although not yet enacted into Canadian law, the guidelines of the IADC are unofficially used by government agencies such as Industry Canada and Foreign Affairs and International Trade to decide whether to grant frequency and remote sensing licenses. “Debris mitigation plans must be submitted by satellite developers before they are granted licenses,” says Dr. Robert E. Zee, SFL Director. “In practice, the IADC guidelines are already being enforced within Canada, and it is only a matter of time before they become official Canadian regulations under law. Satellites that can’t deorbit or re-enter naturally within the 25-year time limit will have to have some kind of device to accelerate deorbiting to meet the IADC recommendation.”
That’s where CanX-7 becomes vitally important to future Canadian satellites. The drag sail under development at SFL will be a low-cost, compact, and scalable device that can be installed in nanosatellites and microsatellites in order to meet deorbiting requirements. Without this technology, Canadian satellite missions could be hampered and unable to proceed to launch. “We wanted to design a deorbiting device that didn’t require that the satellite remain operational after completing its principal mission,” remarked Freddy Pranajaya, Manager of Advanced Systems at SFL. “We chose to develop a passive deorbiting device. At the end of the satellite’s mission, the device would be deployed and no further operations would be required – the satellite would deorbit without even requiring power. The advantage of drag sail technology is that it doesn’t require the satellite to point or expend fuel. Furthermore, the probability of on-orbit collision due to increased satellite volume doesn’t rise as dramatically compared to other passive approaches. The challenge is that no one has developed a drag sail for low-Earth orbiting satellites that has been space qualified and can be included in satellite missions with minimal risk and intrusiveness to the rest of the satellite.”
CanX-7 is intended to address the issue. Within a few years, the intent is to develop a lightweight, compact and scalable drag sail and fly it on a nanosatellite to obtain flight heritage. SFL will then proceed to include the device in future missions that require it. The technology will also be available for larger missions, allowing launches of Canadian satellites to proceed while adhering to the guidelines of the IADC.