Purdue Alumnus FA20 web - Flipbook - Page 20
A DREAM LAUNCH
Upcoming space mission to test drag sail pulling rocket back to Earth
18 PUR D U E A LUMNUS
he says. “Drag sail technology is designed to launch with a
host spacecraft or launch vehicle and deploy at the end of
the host vehicle’s mission. The drag provided by the Earth’s
atmosphere will accelerate the vehicle’s deorbit.”
Called Spinnaker3, this drag sail isn’t the first to be launched
into space. But it is among the first to be large enough for
deorbiting the upper stage of a launch vehicle. The Firefly
Alpha launch will target an orbit altitude of about 200 miles,
but the Spinnaker3 drag sail can provide deorbit capability
from orbit altitudes of 400 miles or greater. This is thanks
to three-meter long carbon fiber booms (hence the “3” in the
name) that pull out a sail with an area of 194 square feet.
Spacecraft laboratory engineer Anthony Cofer (AAE’09,
MS AAE’10, PhD AAE’15) led the design and testing of the
drag sail assembly. “This drag sail has booms like a sailboat
does, but sailing through space is very different,” he says.
“The drag sail booms need to be extremely lightweight,
and they need to be stowed into a tight volume. Once
deployed, the sail needs to maintain its integrity throughout the deorbit phase, which could be months or years.”
M A R K SIM O NS
ENGINEER Anthony Cofer
(AAE’09, MS AAE’10, PhD AAE’15)
works in a vacuum chamber
where he tested the drag sail’s
motor and controller.
rocket is going up into space with a
drag sail. The goal? For the drag sail
to bring the rocket back to Earth,
preventing it from becoming like the
thousands of pieces of space junk in
Earth’s lower orbit.
The drag sail, developed by Purdue engineers, will be on board a Firefly Aerospace rocket
expected to launch in November from Vandenberg Air
Force Base in California. This sail and six other “Dedicated
Research and Education Accelerator Mission” (DREAM)
payloads are flying on Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha launch, the
first flight for the launch vehicle company.
“High-value orbits around Earth are getting congested,”
says David Spencer (AAE’89, MS AAE’91), adjunct associate
professor of aeronautics and astronautics and the mission
manager for the Mars Sample Return Campaign at NASA’s
Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“If we don’t get satellites or other launch vehicle components out of orbit, then eventually, highly utilized orbits
are going to become unusable for other space systems,”