Chinese Astronomers Remove Space Junk Using Drag Sail

Chinese Astronomers Remove Space Junk Using Drag Sail

Space debris piling up in the Earth’s orbit represent a major concern for astronomers. Even small chunks of debris can turn out to be extremely damaging for satellites. When an object moves fast enough through space, it doesn’t matter anymore how small it is. 

The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology revealed that a huge and very thin sail was used to remove space debris caused by the Long March 2 rocket, according to Newsweek.

ESA Operations explains about drag sails via Twitter:

Drag sails unfurl at the end of a spacecraft’s mission to speed up its decent and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
This reduces the risk of it colliding with an active satellite or breaking up into a cloud of dangerous

The sail used to remove space debris is not only ten times thinner than the human hair. The material is also flexible and low-cost, which means that we can realistically hope for more space debris to be removed from orbit in the near future.

An estimation has revealed that there are about 5,000 satellites in the Earth’s orbit that are non-functional, so there should still be a lot of work to do.

Last year in August, our publication shared the news about a Chinese military satellite colliding with space junk. That satellite is Yunhai 1-02, and the US Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS) revealed the breakup.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer who works at the Chandra X-ray Observatory, said:

Collisions are proportional to the square of the number of things in orbit,
That is to say, if you have 10 times as many satellites, you’re going to get 100 times as many collisions. So, as the traffic density goes up, collisions are going to go from being a minor constituent of the space junk problem to being the major constituent. That’s just math. 

The future of astronomical missions sure sounds a bit safer!


Even since he was a child, Cristian was staring curiously at the stars, wondering about the Universe and our place in it. Today he's seeing his dream come true by writing about the latest news in astronomy. Cristian is also glad to be covering health and other science topics, having significant experience in writing about such fields.

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